Danish security service kept ‘deleted’ data in secret archive: report

Denmark’s police security service PET transferred an unknown amount of data to a secret database despite a law requiring its deletion, according to a report.

Danish security service kept 'deleted' data in secret archive: report
Photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Ritzau Scanpix

According to Danish law, sensitive personal information must be deleted no more than 15 years after it has been recorded by PET.

But PET employees can see information in the secret database if they are given permission by bosses, Politiken reports.

The agency wrote that it, as part of investigations, had “very, very rarely accessed the storage-worthy material” in a mail to Politiken. Exactly how often was not specified.

PET is not obliged to ask others for permission when accessing the material, but did agree in 2015 to inform watchdog agency Tilsynet med Efterretningstjenesterne (Supervision of Intelligence Services) whenever it accessed the material.

According to public documents accessed by Politiken, PET referred to the use of the secret database as “logical deletion” (logisk sletning).

An archiving law from 2013 provided the basis for the material to be saved. According to that law, large amounts of PET’s material must be transferred to state archives for the benefit of future historians.

But some of the information is actually stored by PET for security-related reasons.

Amnesty International lawyer Claus Juul said the legal construction enabling the data to be stored in this way was “absurd”.

“It is pure George Orwell to call this ‘logical deletion’, as it is neither logical nor a deletion. It is transfer of data from one archive to another archive, which they then lock and give PET the keys to,” Juul told Politiken.

The legal counsel also said that the apparent legal loophole was a result of provisions giving the state archive power to decide what information should be stored.

“And that can be understood to mean everything [is stored],” he said to Ritzau.

Four political parties, crossing the parliamentary aisle, have now asked for Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen to provide an explanation for the issue.

“My answer is as short as it is honest: this is an issue I have not heard of before,” spokesperson Preben Bang Henriksen of the Liberal party, a coalition government partner, told Politiken.

“This seems like a loophole that has been set up to get around the rules we have made to protect innocent, registered Danes,” said Rosa Lund of the opposition Red-Green Alliance.

READ ALSO: Could Denmark's personal registration number be linked to Facebook accounts?

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Denmark’s plastic littering mapped out in world-first project

Plastic packets, cigarette butts and other litter are still causing a mess in nature areas in Denmark.

Denmark’s plastic littering mapped out in world-first project
File photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

A national survey, Mass Experiment 2019, resulted in the collection of 374,082 pieces of plastic waste at natural areas such as beaches, parks and in ditches, Ritzau reports.

57,000 Danish school students participated in collection of the litter.

Mass Experiment is the world’s first attempt at mapping plastic pollution for a whole country.

“The plastic found by the students is typically different types of disposable plastic,” Kristian Syberg, an associate professor at Roskilde University’s Department of Science and Environment and a researcher on the project, told Ritzau.

“Much of it cannot be recycled, which is why many people tend to throw it away in the wild,” Syberg added.

“This can also impact animals which can become stuck in it or think it is food and eat it. Then they can't distinguish it (from actual food) and get a false sense of being full and can die from hunger,” he continued.

Syberg is also spokesperson for the MarinePlastic research centre, where the project’s results have been analyzed and recorded in a database developed by the European Environment Agency.

Among other types of trash, 112,018 cigarette butts were collected, representing a third of the total litter found.

“Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, which is used to make some types of plastic. This makes it difficult for nature to break them down,” said Niels Them Kjær, a project manager for tobacco prevention with the Danish Cancer Society (Kræftens Bekæmpelse).

“If the cigarette has been smoked, there is also tar in the filter, which also pollutes the environment when you throw away the butt,” he added.

Environment minister Lea Wermelin said findings are “deeply troubling”.

Wermelin noted that political action is being taken to reduce the use of plastics, including bans on cotton wool swabs, disposable cutlery and plastic straws.

Additionally, the price of plastic carrier bags has tripled, and businesses will be banned from providing free carrier bags from January 1st 2021.

READ ALSO: New laws: Here’s what changes in Denmark in 2020

The minister also said individual responsibility must be taken for the environment.

“It [the result of the study, ed.] s also something that I hope will be thought-provoking,” she said.

“And that can help to ensure a change of attitude, so that fewer pieces of plastic are thrown in our nature to the detriment of animals,” she added.