“Big things are happening in Denmark.” With this Hamletic line, Edward Snowden opens a letter in the Danish newspaper Berlingske.
The former NSA contractor and whistleblower weighed in on what the Scandinavian press has dubbed “Se og Hør-gate” (Danish.) It’s a News-of-the-World-like scandal involving the Danish gossip paper Se og Hør (See and Hear), which is accused of buying the confidential credit card records of the royal family, prime minister, and celebrities.
According to a book by a former Se og Hør reporter, Ken Rasmussen, an employee of the payment company Nets leaked information about the credit card purchases of prominent personalities to help the gossip magazine target their location. Nets was recently bought by Bain Capital and Advent International for $3.1 billion.
The magazine’s editor in chief says he was not aware of the practice, which according to Rasmussen was systematic between 2008 and 2012. Nordic authorities have opened an investigation into the allegations, and preliminary findings suggest that all transaction information was readily available to Nets employees without concerns about privacy or security.
Snowden’s letter, published on May 4, puts the Danish scandal into the larger frame of international discussions on the privacy-violating practices of non-governmental entities. The breach in data protection, writes Snowden, subjected “the Danish elite to the same suspicionless surveillance ordinary citizens are facing every day from today’s dangerously out-of-control spying services.” Snowden calls upon the Folketing, Danish’ parliament, to regulate data collection and mass surveillance.
Anybody who writes an email in Aarhus, uses a credit card in Odense, or calls their mother in Copenhagen will have their private records intercepted, analyzed, and stored not just by unaccountable State Security Bureaus, but even private companies and newspapers.
Snowden argues that the tide is turning internationally against governmental and non-governmental data-gathering, mentioning a recent European Court of Justice decision to declare mass surveillance illegal, and citing a US survey that he says shows “fully 70% of the public now agrees protecting our right to privacy is more important than spying, and that consensus is still increasing.”
The UK organization Privacy International ranked Denmark low for privacy rights in its latest report—34th of 45 countries—and labeled it an “extensive surveillance society.”