Icelandic Police Bill to Boost Surveillance Powers

police station reykjavík

Icelandic police would be given increased powers of surveillance if a bill proposed by Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir is passed. RÚV reports that Guðrún introduced the bill in Parliament yesterday. Opposition MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir believes the power the bill grants police is too extensive.

The aim of the bill is to strengthen the police’s ability to respond to organised crime and to give it the authority to monitor individuals who have not committed a crime. To have this authority, there must be a suspicion that an individual is connected to criminal organisations and could potentially commit a serious offence.

The bill would grant police the right to carry out such surveillance in public places, but not within private homes. The police would not need a court order to carry out such surveillance, although a special steering group that includes police officials would have to approve the measure.  The Minister of Justice stated that the bill would bring Icelandic legislation closer to legislation in other Nordic countries.

No independent supervision of police

Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir criticised the bill for not including any independent supervision of police and the use of this surveillance permission. “What is being done here is that the police are being given authority to monitor ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong and even without any suspicion that the person has done anything wrong,” she stated. The Minister of Justice stated that the bill also includes increased supervision of police through establishing a monitoring group for police work and regular reports on the matter to Parliament.

Read More: Police Powers in Iceland

The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of the Independence Party, has been pushing for increased police powers for some time. In 2022, then Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson introduced a crime bill with similar measures to the bill Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced yesterday. It was criticised by the Icelandic Bar Association as well as opposition MPs.

“There are, of course, some conditions in the bill, but it gives the police authority to monitor people’s movements without they themselves being under suspicion of criminal conduct, whether or not they have committed a crime or are preparing to commit a crime,” Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association, stated at the time. He suggested that establishing a dedicated organisation such as an intelligence service would be a better way of investigating the most serious crimes, such as terrorism or organised crime.

Welfare Committee Rejects Request for PM to Appear

refugee protest austurvöllur

The majority of the Welfare Committee has rejected the request for the Prime Minister to be summoned before the committee to discuss the provision of services to asylum seekers, as it does not fall under the Prime Minister’s purview. RÚV reports.

New immigration laws came into effect in July, which, among other things, involve discontinuing services for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Dozens of individuals have received such notifications, and there is a debate about whether the state or local authorities bear responsibility for these individuals.

Read more: Authorities Dispute Over Asylum Seekers in Iceland

The minority in the Welfare Committee has called for an open committee meeting, inviting the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Social Affairs, and the Prime Minister to attend. However, the majority refuses to summon the Prime Minister before the committee, with the committee’s chair, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, stating that there are no grounds for it, as the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Social Affairs and the Minister of Justice. Members of the Pirate Party have objected to this interpretation, with Pirate MP Arndís Anna K. Gunnarsdóttir pointing out that the Prime Minister has a coordinating role in the government that is relevant to the situation at hand. According to the MP, due to the current disagreement that exists regarding the interpretation of the law, it is crucial to summon the Prime Minister before the committee.

asylum seekers iceland
Protest on Austurvöllur, October 9. Golli.

The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Affairs have also discussed recently whether “closed housing facilities,” can be used in the case of rejected asylum applications. Such facilities would restrict the movement of asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected prior to their deportation from the country.

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, stated to RÚV that closed housing facilities cannot solve the problem that has arisen due to people who have received a final denial of international protection: “Regardless of what we may think of closed housing facilities, they are simply not a viable solution because they have no legal basis, and they cannot, of course, address the problem faced by people who have been expelled from the service. It is just a fact that these people have no place to seek protection. I am just ensuring assistance to these people; I took the initiative, and others have not done so.”

Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, has however stated: “I see no other solution than to have closed housing facilities. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need what the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment is suggesting. Such people need to leave the country, and it’s remarkable that solutions are being proposed for people who are breaking the law.”

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Pirate Filibuster of Controversial Immigration Bill Ends

parliament Alþingi

Pirate Party MPs have ceased their filibuster of Jón Gunnarsson’s controversial immigration bill.

After an agreement to shelve further discussion of Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill until after Christmas, parliament has resumed discussion for the sixth time. The bill is currently under discussion for the sixth time in Parliament, after it was shelved during the holidays, to be taken up in the new year. If passed into law, the bill would strip asylum seekers of their ability to seek social services 30 days after the rejection of their application. Concerns have also been raised about the rights of refugee children in the bill.

Read More: Immigration Bill Back on Parliamentary Agenda

The Pirate Party have been especially vocal in their opposition to the bill, having unsuccessfully attempted to have the bill dismissed from the parliamentary agenda. They have likewise called for an independent third party to review the bill and whether it conforms to constitutional law. Other critics of the bill have included major nonprofits and NGOs, including the Red Cross in Iceland, the Icelandic branch of Amnesty International, Association 78, UNICEF, and other major organisations.

Now, however, their recent filibuster of the bill has come to an end. An official statement from the Pirates reads: “Although the bill has received serious criticism from commentators, the ruling majority in parliament has decided to keep the issue as a priority at the expense of other issues, instead of listening to the criticism and reforming the bill or withdrawing it.” They further urged their fellow MPs to “protect the constitution.”

Read More: Human Rights Organisations Criticise Immigration Bill

Supporters of the bill have accused the Pirates of “taking Parliament hostage.” According to the Pirates, however, they only wanted to solicit further comment and discussion of the controversial bill.

In a statement to Vísir, Pirate MP Arndís Anna Kritínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir said: “We believe we have tried our best to provoke a democratic conversation, but the majority has not been willing to do so. If they consider the case to have been handled well enough, no one should have to fear an independent assessment of something as self-evident as whether the bill conforms to the provisions of the constitution.”