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Swedish Gov't Grilled for Ham-Fisted Handling of 'Biggest IT Leak in Decades'

© AP Photo / Ebrahim NorooziSwedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven - Sputnik International
The scandal involving a massive leak of confidential information by Swedish government authorities continues to grow, involving a number of ministers, including Prime Minister Stefan Löfven himself. At present, Stockholm's ham-handed treatment of the 'IT-gate' may lead the red-green coalition government's downfall.

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On Tuesday, senior Swedish ministers were quizzed by topical parliamentary committees as part of the government's urgent measures to somehow contain the domino effect after a massive IT leak. Previously, dubious use of subcontractors by Sweden's Transport Agency made confidential information, including a complete registry of Sweden's drivers and police databases containing criminal records, accessible to foreign technicians who had never undergone security checks.

What makes matters worse for the Swedish government is that it appears to have been deliberately trying to hush up the leak. Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and Interior Minister Anders Ygeman reportedly knew about the suspicions as early as in early 2016, whereas Infrastructure Minister Anna Johansson and none other than Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who reportedly were informed in early 2017.

During the grilling, the ministers appeared to be involved in a kind of blame game to downplay the apparent lack of communication. Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist admitted to learning of a Security Police (SÄPO) investigation of the Transport Agency's outsourcing problems in March 2016, yet claimed to have gotten the picture that "SÄPO and the Armed Forces were jointly acting on the matter," Swedish Radio reported.

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Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said he had informed the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation (which includes the Infrastructure Minister) after receiving information from SÄPO in 2016, yet added that he didn't feel it was necessary to pass it to the Prime Minister at that point.

"This is not the kind of information you can discuss during a coffee break. You have to be in special rooms to relay this kind of information. Instead, information has been distributed to relevant ministries via the channels available to spread information between departments," Anders Ygeman told the tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet, obviously blaming the failure to report the incident on the lack of premises.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who admittedly learned about the leak in early 2017, claimed that it was Anna Johansson's job to inform him of the incident, which she had been unable to do as she apparently had not had the necessary information herself. Johansson previously stated that her secretary failed to pass it on.

However, the Swedish opposition did not find this explanation particularly appealing.

"The fact that a responsible minister doesn't know what's happening within her own field provides no confidence at all," Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt told the Swedish TV-channel TV4.

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Although the extent of the damage still remains to be determined, this is undoubtedly the largest breach of government information in Sweden in decades. Furthermore, it may threaten the coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens, as the Left, the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats said they were mulling issuing a non-confidence vote.

Meanwhile, the IT leak seems to lead to no political consequences whatsoever, according to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who specifically stressed that he had confidence in all government councils, despite having himself used phrases as "flagrant deficiencies" and "breakdown," the Swedish news outlet Nyheter Idag reported.

So far, the only consequence of the IT scandal has been the firing of the Transport Agency's former director general Maria Ågren. Ågren stepped down from her post in January this year for reasons undisclosed, but has later admitted to violating data handling and was awarded a fine of 70,000 SEK ($8,000). At the same time, Ågren retained her salary, which may mean at least 4.8 million SEK ($600,000) until 2021, when her tenure formally runs out, the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen reported.

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The Transport Agency has been outsourcing its IT maintenance since 2015 for reasons of austerity measures. Meanwhile, the Auditor General's Office reported serious deficiencies in the Transport Agency's risk analyses and competence management as early as 2014. The criticism was presented in both report form and in direct oral contact with the Transport Agency board, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.

Meanwhile, Sweden's National Defense Radio Establishment (FRA) pointed out serious shortcomings in the government authorities, claiming that it takes professional hackers "only an hour" to get into their IT systems. FRA information manager Anni Bölenius told SVT that many authorities failed to meet elementary security demands.

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