FECL 45 (July 1996):

UNCONTROLLED REGISTRATION OF FOREIGNERS

A loophole in the law establishing the type of personal data the Danish police intelligence service, Politiets Efterretningstjeneste (PET) may store and process, has been revealed. The law gives the PET a free hand to register whatever they want and without any restriction in time on foreigners legally resident in Denmark.

It is not known to what extent the PET actually did register foreigners, since this is considered classified information. But a recent court case against three Egyptians who were accused of planning terrorist attacks in Denmark gives an idea of the extent of the PET’s surveillance activities. The three defendants were suspected of involvement with the organisation responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

 

Arab community in Aarhus region "scanned"

The defence lawyers for the three Egyptians told the press that the PET had extensively scanned the Arab community around the city of Aarhus, where the three were living. According to press information, the PET questioned around 2,000 persons - mainly foreigners. The three Egyptians were later acquitted by a Court of first instance, and the Public Prosecutor has decided not to submit the case to a higher court.

 

Danish citizens: registration on solely political grounds prohibited

The PET is prohibited by law from opening files on any Danish citizen solely on political grounds. However, this definition does not exclude registration on political grounds, if these grounds are related to crimes threatening the state, the security of the society and public order. These rules were established in 1968 by a Declaration of the Government stating on which terms registration by the PET should be allowed.

 

No control of PET registration of foreigners

In answering a series of questions from Sören Sondergaard, an MP for Enhedslisten (The Red-Green Alliance), about the control of the PET and the military intelligence service, FE (Forsvarets Efterrettningstjeneste), Minister of Justice Björn Westh also gave the information that the committee controlling every registration of Danish citizens has no such authority with regard to the registration of non-Danish persons permanently residing in Denmark. The Minister contended that, in practice, the registration of foreigners followed "mainly" the guidelines concerning Danish citizens. But the Deputy Chief of the Police Office of the Ministry of Justice has refused to give a more precise definition of what "mainly" means in relation to non-Danish persons.

 

The Wamberg Committee

The committee controlling the activities of the PET is called the Wamberg Committee after its first chairman. It was formed in 1964 after the press revealed that thousands of Danish citizens had a file in the PET archives based only on information about their political opinion. These files were ordered to be destroyed and after that any new "political" registration should be sanctioned by the Wamberg Committee. In June 1968, the Government set up guidelines which regulate how the PET must proceed when it wants to open a file on a Danish citizen.

The Wamberg Committee has eight members. Four of them, considered "non-political", enjoy the respect and esteem of a wide public. The other four are: a representative of the PET, the director of the Foreign Office and the chiefs of department in the Ministries of Justice and of Defence. The committee meets about 10 times a year at the PET headquarters. At these occasions the PET presents the persons they want to open new files on and the committee supervises whether the provisions are followed. The committee is also responsible for making spot checks in the PET register. The quality of these checks is, however, disputed, since it is the PET who at each meeting presents the committee with a number of cases, which then are examined.

The number of Danish citizens registered by the PET is unknown. The Minister of Justice said in one of his answers that in 1972 there were around 37,000 Danish citizens registered for other reasons then security clearances (which are not controlled by the Wamberg Committee). This number had shrunk to an approximate 18,000 in 1980 and was down to around 13,000 persons in 1980. By the end of 1995, the exact number of Danish citizens with a PET file was 6,135.

 

The register of the military intelligence service

Since 1978, the Wamberg Committee has also been controlling the work of the military intelligence service, FE. According to the Minister of Defence, Hans Haekkerup, there are around 76,000 persons in the archives. The great majority of these files concern security clearances. The number of Danish citizens registered by the FE on other grounds is around 550.

Mads Bruun Pedersen (Copenhagen)

 

Sources: Answers to questions no.2425-2430, no.2605-2608, no.2613-2616, publ. in Folketingstidende 1995-96; Berlingske Tidende, 3.7.96; Danmarks Radio, Orientering, 3.7.96; Socialisten Weekend no.10, 5.7.96.