This is an opinion article reflecting the views of the author.
At the end of April, the police authority reported that large parts of inner-city Stockholm would do so camera monitoring Drones during the Labor Day demonstrations. The demonstrations were also monitored on camera on several other occasions, although they did not involve any other disorder or crime.
This kind of mass surveillance of peaceful expression risks posing a long-term problem for democracy.
Recently, the state’s capabilities and ability to monitor individuals have greatly increased.
At the same time that surveillance increased, the potential for anonymous communication and uncensored expression of opinion decreased. An example of this is that at present it is not possible to obtain anonymous cash cards in order to be able to blow a whistle anonymously or to transmit other information about misconduct and social problems between individuals or to the media.
State surveillance always constitutes interference with the rule of law and democratic values that must protect personal integrity.
In the past few days, we’ve also been able to read about how the new law on foreign espionage has led to SVT censor themselves Fearing retaliation if they broadcast a feature containing information about Ukraine’s energy supplies, stemming from the so-called Pentagon leak.
At the same time, there is broad consensus for the introduction of legislation that would enable wiretapping of individuals without concrete criminal suspicion.
Tools can be misused
In general, the space for free opinion formation is shrinking in a society where the fear of surveillance and retaliation already leaves clear traces. By overly intrusive police surveillance, you risk creating the same kind of fear even when participating in demonstrations.
The free formation of opinions requires that individuals be able to demonstrate, act, and freely exchange thoughts, ideas, and opinions. The Bar Association has indicated on several occasions that simply realizing that there is an opportunity to monitor and track individuals can have a very negative impact on the exercise of many democratic freedoms and rights.
If you want to protect freedom of expression, you have to be very careful about using monitoring tools that can easily be abused.
Banning drones at demonstrations
We know there have been a number of examples where the state previously created illegal or inappropriate records – from the International Baccalaureate Relationship to the so-called Rome Register, where people were registered because of political opinions or kinship within a particular ethnic group despite a ban on registration. Misuse of police tools has also been shown to occur repeatedly in other contexts.
Thus, the legislation prohibiting a certain recording or processing of the collected data is not enough – examples from history still give cause for unjustified concern that something similar will happen again.
Even if the form of government includes privacy protections as well as bans on recording due to political opinion, citizens must be able to trust that they will be followed. Therefore, police must be prevented from using drones and other forms of camera surveillance in political demonstrations, at least before any concrete crime is discovered that warrants intervention. Even when intervention is necessary, monitoring should be limited to the perpetrator(s) of the crimes and not cover other peaceful protesters.
Free opinion formation is prohibited
State surveillance always constitutes interference with the rule of law and democratic values that must protect personal integrity. The fact that people who wish to express their opinions feel there is a risk that they are being monitored or recorded may gradually discourage the freedom to form opinions. In the SVT self-censorship example, we’ve already seen this happen.
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