2008-09-12

The latest Pirate Bay controversy

The Pirate Bay, the scorn of the Old Empires, is currently involved in a new scandal. But it's the same old story about the evil of men, the question of right or wrong and the morals of the hypocritic Old Media.

Act 1 - The crime
In spring, there was a terrible double murder in Sweden. Appearantly, a jealous ex girlfriend went berserk. She killed two little children and put their mother in a coma.

The press was all over this thing. Day in and day out they reported minute reports on anything regarding this case. Everything known about the murder. The thrilling drama of the mother, unconcious and unaware that her children were dead. Then the chilling drama as she woke up and found out about the whole ordeal. They marvelled at the police investigation, every little detail at the trial and so on.

Act 2 - The Principle of Public Knowledge
They managed to do that because of a constitutional right in Sweden called "The principle of Public Knowledge" - I think that's the best way to translate it. It's a lawful principle that says that documents made by Swedish authorities are open to the public without limitations, unless extraordinary circumstances (such as national security) deems it to be classified. Publicity is the norm. Classification is the exception.

The idea is, of course, that everyone should be able to check up on any authority descision afterwards to see the reasoning behind it and detect flaws.

Untill recently, this principle was hardly ever exercised by others than journalists or scientists, because it was quite a task to go to the office of said authority (say the prosecutor in some small town far away) and find the document in question. Then you couldn't take the original, obviously, so you had to copy the documents you wanted. A complex police report such as the one in the aforementioned case can be thousands of pages. So copying it would be both pricy and hard work.

Nowadays, that's not a problem. Most of these documents are turned into PDF documents, and getting a hold of them is a matter of requesting them from said authorities and having them mailed over. The fee is usually about ten bucks, the cost of the work put down on sending it over. A service fee.

Act 3 - The upload
For some reason, someone decided they wanted a copy of the prosecutor's material on this case. So they did just like I described before, they ordered the material and got it sent over. And then they decided to make a torrent file out of it, and uploading it to the Pirate Bay.

In the prosecutor's material was included some pictures from the autopsy of the victims. This made it all hot stuff.

The file was uploaded to the Pirate Bay. Not the report itself, but a link to the computer from where it could be downloaded. Nothing is stored at the Pirate Bay servers but links, and this is why it has been difficult to file charges against them and get them convicted of anything. They are currently awaiting a trial for the ridiculous crime labled "Aiding piracy", invented just for this trial.

The link was uploaded, and didn't get much attention. There are millions of such torrents on the Pirate Bay. Thousands are added every day. If people doesn't upload it, it disappears in the noise. This is what probably would've happened in a couple of days, if the Media hadn't intervened.

Act 4 - The hype
For some reason, a driven reporter on TV4 News found out about this torrent and decided that it would be News (TM), given the high profile of the murder case and the fact that there were autopsy pictures. So they aired a report about this. They couldn't resist - "Autopsy pictures at the Pirate Bay". Despite the fact that this was hardly the case.

It led to the Pirate Bay getting hundereds of mails from upset people who, in more or less threatening manners, demanded they take down the material.

Now the Pirate Bay can't really do much about this.

First of all, they have a principle that they don't take stuff down, unless it is illegal to possess (such as child porn). If they started to back down on that principle, they would soon have to start to take down more and more controversial (or private) material links untill they idea with the site was obliterated.

Secondly, the Streisand effect would've kicked in. The Streisand effect is a principle that if you try to remove something from the Internet, it starts spreading faster. The definition is, "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

In 2003 a photographer took an aerial picture of Streisand's house. She sued the website publishing it as part of a beachfront project. And soon it was evident that this had led to the picture being very popular on the Internet.

In April 2007, the HDTV encryption key was published on Digg. They tried to remove it. The result is that it started to occur on hundereds of thousands of web pages. There's a song about it. Several domain names contains the number or variations of it. By trying to conceal this number, it became the most famous number on the Internet.

Wikileaks had a series of OT documents from the Church of Scientology. When the Scientologists tried to have it removed, Wikileaks woved to publish several thousands of additional pages of Scientology material.

It's quite simple - once something gets on the Internet it stays. If you try to remove it, you make things worse. The Pirate Bay crew knew this.

And the fact is that if TV 4 News hadn't made the report, the file would've disappeared in the noise. But by making the report, they made the public aware of it. Suddenly, it went from 100 downloads in several months to tens of thousands of downloads in a couple of days.

All this the Pirate Bay crew understood and tried to tell the people mailing them to have it removed. Aside from the fact that material wasn't there in the first place, only links to it.

When one of the moderators had spent an entire day answering this kind of mails, with various levels of abuse, he got fed up. To one mail, he simply answered. "Enough with the fucking nagging. No, no and again no."

The problem was that the person he replied to wasn't just any concerned citizen. it was the father of the two murdered children.

Act 5 - the bigots
Of course, this was realized quite quickly, and the Pirate Bay issued a public message (Swedish only) apologizing to the father for this reply, along with an explanation of why the mistake had occured.

But of course, the story took off. Every old media - newspapers, radio, TV - in the country has reported on this. Hundereds of blogs has discussed it. Some have tried to start a boycot campaign against the Pirate Bay with limited success. Others have tried to explain or defend the Pirate Bay - I tend to belong to the second category.

But it all boils down to this:

The Old Media loves this whole situation. They feel threatened by the new media trends and the development that new technology has meant to them. They have not been particularily good at following the latest developments and are worried about blogs, user-provided content, torrent technology and all the other things that threatens their monopoly on handing out information to the masses. They have seen an opportunity to do so now.

And in fact, how cynical aren't they? For months they have exploited the tragedy of this family on a daily basis. And now, suddenly, when one of the symbols of the new information infrastructure have accidentally gotten involved in this case, NOW they are suddenly horrified about the lack of morals towards the family?

Talk about hypocrits. Being holier than thou when they in fact created the problem in the first place - after exploiting it for add incomes for months? I am suddenly glad I never became a reporter. Had I been, I would seriously have questioned the ethics of my job today.

2008-06-17

Law on communications tapping scorned from abroad

The Swedish FRA law is condemned by several international NGOs. Among these are Privacy International, a London based foundation based in 50 countries which works against electronic monitoring of citizens and for a stronger protection of privacy and openness.

Privacy International's vice secretary general David Banisar has followed the debate of the Swedish FRA law for some time.

"I can't imagine how this law is going to be able to meet the demands of the European Declaration of Human Rights, Banisar says to DN.


He can't think of any European equivalents to the FRA law, and says it's one of the most far reaching acts he has seen in this field:

"The closest you get, the way I see it, is the controversial decision of the Bush administration to bypass the law and monitor all American communications with other countries, even that on internal matters."


Echelon is a huge American-British network for search pattern basedlinetaping, the largest information collection and monitoring network that has ever existed. According to Privacy International, Echelon is able to get itself into and spy on the tele- and data trafic of almost any country and with very limited judicial control. The system is estimated to catch around 3 billion communications a day.

Echelon is primarily controlled by the US and the UK, but Australia, New Zeeland and Canada also adds to the surveillance.

Surprisingly enough, David Banisar claims that the FRA in a way actually works in an even broader fashion.

"In reality it will contain Swedish domestical communication as well, if it happens to cross the borders."


The European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, has also made a statement where they condemn the Swedish bill proposal. Electronic monitoring of tele- and e-mail communications is breaking international and European legislation, the EFJ concludes. In the European Parliament the FRA bill is questioned by, among others, the French MEP Benoît Hamon, prominent socialist and former coworker of Martin Aubry, minister of Labour in the Jospin administration. Hamon has written a letter with a number of questions about the bill to the European Convention: He wants to know if the Convention believes that the FRA bill is compatible with European legislation and with the European Declaration of Human Rights. He also asks if the Commision has any idea wether or not the Swedish government has taken any measure to protect non-Swedes. He also asks if there are any connections to monitoring networks ouside of the EU, primarily Echelon.

Håkan Jevrell, state secretary in the Ministry of Defence, claimed in DN yesterday that the Swedish law isn't unique in the world or in Europe. However, his only concrete example was Echelon.

In fact, it is very hard to get a greater picture of what models of surveillance that are in use in other EU countries, and if they can be compared with the FRA bill. Except for the UK, the Netherlands and Germany has implemented some fort of surveillance. But details about how these countrie control their signal fishing, or other European example, are things that the Ministry of Defense hasn't been able to provide DN with.

"I don't think we have any such informations specifically about tapping withing the EU", department employee Per Anderman says.


Tove Nandorf, DN

Sweden steps away from democracy

World+dog ignores Sweden's Draconian wiretap bill
'If your email crosses our border, we tap it'
By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
Published Wednesday 4th June 2008 20:27 GMT

Sweden is on the verge of passing a far-reaching wiretapping program that would greatly expand the government's spying capabilities by permitting it to monitor all email and telephone traffic coming in and out of the country.

So far, hacks from the mainstream Swedish press seem to be on holiday, so news about the proposed law is woefully hard to come by. That leaves us turning to this summary from the decidedly partisan Swedish Pirate Party for details. We'd prefer to rely on a more neutral group, but that wasn't possible this time. According to them, here's a broad outline:

The En anpassad försvarsunderrättelseverksamhet bill (which loosely translates to "a better adapted military intelligence gathering") gives Sweden's National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) direct access to the traffic passing through its borders. Now remember, we're talking about the internet, which frequently routes packets though multiple geographically dispersed hops before they reach their final destination.

This all but guarantees that emails and voice over IP (VoIP) calls between Swedes will routinely be siphoned into a massive monitoring machine. And we wouldn't be surprised if traffic between parties with no tie to the country regularly passes through Sweden's border as well, and that too would be fair game. (For example, email sent from a BT address in London to Finland is likely to pass through Sweden first.)

Once intercepted, the data will be searched for certain keywords, and those that contain the words will be pulled aside for additional scrutiny. A broad array of organizations will have use of the system, including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, the police, secret service and customs, and in some cases major businesses. The bill allows Swedes to be singled out, as well.

When the bill was introduced in early 2007, Google was reportedly so concerned about its consequences for privacy that it threatened to limit its ties to the country if the measure passed.

"We have contacted Swedish authorities to give our view of the proposal and we have made it clear that we will never place any servers inside Sweden's borders if the proposal goes through," Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said last year, according to this article. "We simply cannot compromise our users' integrity by allowing Swedish authorities access to data that may not even concern Swedish activity."

But so far, few outside of the pro-privacy universe have bothered to discuss the bill this time around. There have been no similar pronouncements from Google and representatives there didn't respond to a request for comment. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has likewise been reticent about the bill.

"Surprisingly enough, there hasn't been that much written about it, even in the Swedish media," said Patrik Runald, a Swedish national and a security response manager for F-Secure who works in San Jose, California.

"The funny thing is when asked what do you want to look for, [backers of the bill] don't really specify what they're interested in," he continued. "It's a very broad bill. They basically can interpret whatever they like."

One of the few recent press mentions of the bill came from a publication called Cellular News in London. According to this story, Nordic and Baltic telecommunications provider TeliaSonera planned to move email servers out of Sweden to protect the privacy of its Finnish customers.

The bill is scheduled to come up for a vote on June 17. According to the Swedish Pirate Party, a majority of parliament currently backs the bill.
Source: The Register

I am seriously starting to worry about Swedish democracy.

1: When this law is passed, Sweden has taken a huge and almost irrevocable step towards abandoning democracy.

2: This step has been taken by systematic cheating (votes and debates during times when many are away, i.e. Christmas vacations and similar) and lies to the press and on official websites.

3: This step has been part of a strategy that has been used more or less since the same year that Swedish political society - around year 2000 - unanimously said that we will never again mass monitor our citizens.

4: This step has been taken because both the left wing and the right wing parties have pushing for it.

5: It is enough that four parliament members from any of the governing parties votes against it for it to be turned down. However, several of said politicians who claim they are against this law has told media that they will either vote to pass the law just the same in fear of reprisals or bad blood from their party peers (the so-called "party whip") or that they will refrain from voting alltogether for the same reasons.

6: Mass media has shunned to write anything about this untill last week, when it was clear that hundereds of blog posts has taken it up, when hundereds of upset people have mailed their MPs to protest, and when the campaign site against this law has had hundereds of thousands of visits within the span of a week. Now, suddenly, all news papers write about it. From various angles.

7: The Pirate Party released an mp3 recording of a conversation with the chairman of the FRA admitting that the authority has already been monitoring trafic en masse for several years without being permitted to do so by law.

8: Sweden's leading TV news show has also uncovered that FRA has done this monitoring, and well aware that there are serious legal issues surrounding the procedures.

9: Several other authorities, expert panels, unions, concideration bodies, union of journalists, union of lawyers, the National Security Service and others have all shunned this law as unconstitional and anti-democratic.

And still, it seems like the Swedish parliament will ignore all these facts and pass this law on Wednesday.