The Washington Post recently published a column by the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, titled “Tear down these walls against Internet freedom“.
The column seems to present a very optimistic view of the Internet, a liberal view seldom seen among politicians today. Between the urge to stop file sharing and combat terrorism and child pornography, censorship and mass surveilance among the western nations has taken our Internet connections several steps closer to what the average Chinese user sees when logging on.
Sweden has traditionally been a strong country for new technology, so why wouldn’t the fight for a free Internet take root here? Indeed, Sweden is the birthplace of a political movement focused on saving the free Internet, the Pirate Party, so why not? I feel the need to offer up a report from within the country governed my Minister Bildt’s party.
The column in the Washington Post was preceded by a similar column (google translated) in one of Sweden’s largest newspapers and a blog post on Minister Bildt’s own blog. Sadly, the Swedish columns are less clear on this issue of what freedom means.
Here is a translated quote:
“It is obvious that the international rule set is far too weak and that the means that are available to ensure adherence to the rules in place are insufficient. The users have ended up trailing far behind the abusers.”
I wouldn’t call that obvious. The summary of Minister Bildt’s columns appears to be “more freedom will be had by introducing more government control”. This matches the actions of the government he is part of as well.
It is easy to criticize the Chinese government for their surveilance and censorship, yet the last year alone the Swedish government has put in place a law breaking a long tradition of free communications, ordering a mass surveillance of all Internet traffic that crosses the nation’s borders. Knowing how the Internet works and considering the small size of the country, that works out to just about all Internet traffic — all emails, IMs, chats, you name it.
This caused a wave of protests through the country and an online protest now known as the “blog quake”. Google declared that after the law was passed, it would no longer place any servers on Swedish soil, due to concerns for user privacy and integrity.
The same government has given media companies rights that go further than the national police force when it comes to hunting file sharers, and is preparing a new law mandating that every cell phone call, text message or other communication be logged, together with the position of the device at the time, essentially turning every cell phone into a tracking device in the state’s service.
The columns caused an outcry among Swedish Internet activists and supporters of freedom. The minister responded on his blog, showing just how ignorant the government is:
I do not understand that Christian Engström and others are upset about what I have said. Do they not think it is good that Sweden has a government that wants to defend freedom on the ‘net? To whine about FRA (the governmental body tasked with the mass surveilance of the Internet, my note) and our intelligence agency has nothing to do with it. Sweden does not restrict freedom of speech on the ‘net or anywhere else.
I would applaud Minister Bildt’s call for Internet freedom in the Washington Post, had I seen it in isolation. However, all is not well in the state of Sweden. While I would love to see the Iranian attempts to silence protesters fail and the great Chinese firewall break down, an easier political target would be to respect the rights of the people in your own country.
And sadly, the Swedish government has failed to take even the slightest account of it’s citizens’ right to privacy on the Internet. I would not trust a pest control company with roaches inhabiting its offices, and I will not trust a government that censors the Internet to tear down any walls against Internet freedom — in China or elsewhere.