OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian intelligence agencies should be given wide-ranging permission to gather data from electronic communications to prevent terrorism and espionage, the head of the country's military surveillance agency said on Wednesday.
In an interview with public broadcaster NRK, Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen said it was becoming more difficult to uncover threats and that authority to monitor all data traffic as it enters the country was needed to keep the population safe.
"We run a big risk if we don't address this properly and give the intelligence service and the Police Security Service (PST) the necessary tools," Grandhagen said, adding that border checkpoints and customs services must have an online equivalent.
Electronic eavesdropping is allowed to monitor specific threats to national security, but a full-scale mining of all data entering the country would require changes in legislation.
"The big question is whether to allow the digital space to become a free-for-all room for terrorism, foreign intelligence services and organized crime," Grandhagen said.
Norway, a NATO member and a large producer of oil and gas, earlier this year said foreign intelligence services had taken a greater interest in its affairs. It took the unusual step of naming Russia and China among those conducting surveillance.
The PST has also warned that young Norwegian Muslims joining Islamic State in Syria may pose a threat when they come home from the battle field.
But Norway's Data Protection Authority, a public agency policing digital privacy, told NRK the general was asking for unreasonably broad powers.
"This seems like a disproportionate interference of communication compared to what they seek to achieve," Chief Legal Officer Kim Ellertsen said.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Larry King)