Norway security services criticized for gathering data on airline passengers

A parliamentary oversight committee has issued a strong criticism of Norway’s police security service PST for collecting large amounts of passenger data on flights taken in the country.

Norway security services criticized for gathering data on airline passengers
Photo: miles_around/Depositphotos

A potential leak of the information cannot be ruled out, according to the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Security Services (EOS).

“We cannot guarantee that no sensitive information has gone astray,” said Svein Grønnern, head of the EOS committee, told newspaper Aftenposten. The issue was initially reported by Dagens Næringsliv.

In a report submitted to parliament on Thursday afternoon, the committee asserts that PST obtained large amounts of data from low-cost airline Norwegian without the correct legal basis.

According to the committee, passenger lists were regularly sent to PST by Norwegian and eight other airlines.

Of the one million passengers said to be encompassed by the data, “hundreds of thousands are Norwegians,” the report states.

“This routine data collection is illegal. The information was stored for months and was accessible,” the committee writes according to NTB and Aftenposten’s report.

“A greater degree of caution could have been expected on the part of the airlines,” Grønnern said.

“You can’t just hand over sensitive information because PST is knocking on the door. You have to be certain this is okay in a legal context,” he added.

The head of committee said no “specific” checks had been made as to whether the information had been shared with foreign intelligence services.

Norwegian declined to comment on why they handed over the information or whether any data might have gone astray.

“The EOS committee’s conclusion is clear. We have no further comment,” said the company’s spokesperson Tonje Næss told NTB.

PST has stated it disagrees with the committee over the issue.

The police security service used Norway’s Immigration Act and Immigration Regulations (utlendingsloven og utlendingsforskriften) as the legal basis for data collection, according to PST director Hans Sverre Sjøvold.

“There has been disagreement between the (EOS) committee and as to whether there was sufficient legal basis,” Sjøvold said via a statement on the PST website.

PST has nevertheless suspended the practice following the criticism.

“PST has initiated a review of practices and routines in order to ensure correct collection and management of passenger lists,” Sjøvold’s statement said.

READ ALSO: Data of over 37,000 in Norway may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica

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Terror, cyber-attacks and espionage: These are the biggest threats to Norway’s security

The threats facing Norway have changed due to political and technological developments. But terrorism and espionage continues to be some of the biggest threats to national security, according to the annual threat assessment.

Terror, cyber-attacks and espionage: These are the biggest threats to Norway’s security
Photo: engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Police Security Service (PST), the Norwegian Intelligence Service (E-tjenesten) and the Norwegian National Security Authority (NSM) on Monday jointly presented their annual assessments of the biggest threats facing state and public security in Norway.

This was the 11th annual joint presentation of the threat assessment. The joint assessment is highly influential in determining Norwegian policy on a range of issues, such as foreign policy, cyber security and terrorism prevention.

“These three jointly form part of the foundation for those who reach decisions that impacts on our security,” said Norway’s Foreign Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen at the press conference in Oslo Monday.

The assessment identified geopolitical tensions, cyber-attacks and terrorism as the biggest immediate threats to Norway’s security.

“We have witnessed rapid technological change,” said the head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Nils Andreas Stensønes. “As a consequence, states and non-state actors have increased their room for manoeuvre. This has to also be considered alongside growing great-power rivalry. These are the driving forces behind the threats Norway is facing at the commencement of 2021.”

Terror a significant danger

The threat assessments identify terrorism as a significant public danger in Norway, particularly by violent radical Islamic terror. The threat from the extreme far-right, however, has also increased, and far-right propaganda is gaining traction.

The terrorist threat level in Norway, however, is still considered to be “moderate”.

“This entails that there are groups in Norway that support using violence as a means to threaten Norway and Norwegian society,” said Head of the Police Security Service, Hans Sverre Sjøvold.

“These are groups that we are aware of, and that we will confront with preventive measures,” Sjøvold said.

The assessments, however, also point out that growing discontent with restrictions introduced to combat the Covid-19 pandemic may fuel opposition and potentially lead to terrorist attacks.

Great power rivalry

Norway is a Nato member and close ally to the United States. Yet its position close to Russia and proximity to the Arctic region means the country must balance precariously between its strategic alliances and maintaining friendly neighbourly relations.

“We can see that the great power rivalry continues with unabated strength,” said Bakke-Jensen.

He emphasised that while Russia is of particular concern, China has become an important global actor. Increasingly the country is attempting to promote its foreign and domestic interest on the global stage, openly and in secret.

But as of yet, outright war remains an unlikely scenario. A growing concern is espionage and operations to influence public opinion, such as psychological operations.

“The Norwegian armed force’s defence and foreign policy, the arctic region, Svalbard, the health sector, the energy sector and advanced technology is of great interest to foreign intelligence services,” said Stensønes.

Cyber security

The assessments also point out that cyber-attacks are also one of the main threats facing Norway. The country has this year experienced several attacks, including one against parliament in August last year.

“The cyber-attack against parliament in the fall of 2020 is one of several severe occurrences in recent time that illustrates the threat actors’ capacity and will to assault Norwegian organisation,” the NSM-report states.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has blamed Russia for the attack, allegations that the Russian government denies.

Interlinked threats

Bakke-Jensen also stressed that these threats are complex and interlinked.

“We today face threats that expands across sectors,” Bakke-Jensen said. “State security and public security are increasingly more closely connected.”

He said that this is partly a consequence from Norway being an open and liberal democracy where citizens have a high degree of freedom and face relatively few constraints on rights and behaviours.

READ ALSO: Syrian teen arrested in Norway for plotting attack