It has recently come to light that the US embassy is engaging in surveillance of the neighbourhood around the building. Icelandic politicians have likened the operation to spying, but American officials have said it’s just a security measure.
RÚV reported that the US embassy has admitted to engaging in what is known as a Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU), essentially extending security surveillance from beyond the building of the embassy itself and into the neighbourhood around it. Begun ten years ago, the operation saw a great revamping after late 2001.
SDUs are also conducted in Norway, Sweden and Finland, and authorities there have demanded explanations. The Norwegian media service Star City News reports that many Norwegians were outraged to learn of the practice, likening it to spying on private citizens.
The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights revealed the practice in parliament yesterday, and has asked state police to look into whether or not the US embassy has been engaging in spying on Icelanders.
Embassy spokesperson Laura Gritz has emphasized though that SDUs are “neither secret nor spying. It is not used against a host country or its citizens. It is simply to watch for suspicious activity within the vicinity of the embassy and its employees.” She added that the embassy was fully willing to discuss the matter further with Icelandic authorities.
A Norwegian blogger has has added to this explanation in more detail, saying in part “the SDU will be stationed outside the embassy, working in plain clothes and will do its best not to be noticed or seen as having anything to do with the embassy. The members will normally be recruited from police or military intelligence, and are usually very experienced in their chosen field. They will actively follow, photograph, videotape and monitor persons that they deem to be deserving of that treatment.”
Icelandic MP Álfheiður Ingadóttir has submitted a number of questions that she wants investigated, among them whether or not private citizens in Iceland have been spied upon, if the Icelandic government has been aware of this, and what area is under surveillance, among other questions.