In June the Swedish parliament passed a controversial surveillance law that gives authorities a mandate to read all email and listen in on all phone calls without warrant or court order. In response to the law, The Pirate Party organized rallies, bloggers and journalists turned into activists, and even Google decided to relocate their servers.
The aftermath of the vote on wiretapping legislation has been turbulent, to say the least. Bloggers have not wasted a minute in their criticism, mainstream media eventually caught up and the newspapers are now running stories and editorials every day. Various viral campaigns have flourished along with grassroots activism and The Pirate Party has hauled full sails to catch the wind that will blow them straight into European Parliament during the elections of 2009.
That’s not all. Google and former public telecoms company Telia moved their servers out of Sweden. Belgium says it will sue Sweden since Belgian citizens may be wiretapped without any apparent reason. Anne Ramberg, secretary-general of the Swedish Bar Association, has called for challenges to the law in Swedish and European courts and similar demands have been heard from several other interest groups, like the Journalist’s Union. It’s FRA hunting season this summer in Sweden!
It is now obvious that the legislation was a deal made between the leaders of the four government parties without full support, even from within their own ranks. Active party members resigned in protest, like Fabian Norlin of the Moderate party who quit on June 24 and instead launched FRApedia, a Wiki covering everything about the law and the authorities.
Meanwhile, the people responsible have not uttered a word in defense of the legislation. They haven’t even tried to justify it. In fact, the few quotes that were made referred in smug terms to the nature of the debate and the debaters. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said “It would be best for everyone if the debate would calm down.” Others have called your-rights-online-bloggers “spirited amateurs”, sparking even more fury.
During the time since the vote, the Members of Parliament have appeared everything from sad through to ridiculously stupid when trying to handle the turbulence. A representative of the “ridiculous” faction was Liberal Party member Gunnar AndrÃ©n who wrote a very upset internal email claiming he hadn’t been told by party colleague Camilla Lindberg that she was going to vote against the bill (she was the only member of any of the four government parties that voted against the bill and received much appreciation and media by it). His email was leaked to the press by another party colleague and AndrÃ©n was later heard on a recorded phone-call exclaiming that his secrecy of correspondence had been broken and that it was “Gestapo methods”. Dude, you just voted for a bill that allows all emails to be read and all phone calls to be recorded. Live with it!
The big shift in public opinion came at the time of the vote when the blogs, who had pushed on the issue for many weeks before the vote, finally found the mainstream media with them, and with that the power to reach the masses. Some 6.6 million emails were sent to the Members of Parliament through an online petition created by daily newspaper Expressen which allowed easy protests to the members. GÃ¶ran Petterson of the Moderate Party (until 2006 a military officer and one of those in favor of the FRA legislation) wrote on his blog: “Email is a great way to communicate with my voters but then you can’t do like Expressen has done now. [â€¦] Now, normal emails from the citizens are drowning in these.” Clearly, he didn’t understand his voters were trying to communicate with him, sending him a clear message of what they thought of him and his party.
This Thursday, rallies were initiated in MalmÃ¶ and Stockholm by The Pirate Party which gathered more than 2000 anti-FRA protesters. They were in fact parties rather than protests, celebrating that Sweden has become a banana republic. As in the protests before the vote in June, the parties’ youth organizations stood side by side fighting the FRA, all ideological differences set aside for what may be one of the most important issues in their political careers.
In MalmÃ¶, Peter Sunde of The Pirate Bay spoke at the rally saying “the FRA bill is unnecessary, ineffective, unwanted and last but not least, expensive. The government should listen to the people, as they cannot replace us. However, we have the power to change the government.” Meanwhile, in Stockholm, Maria Wetterstrand of the Green Party promised that an abolishment of the FRA bill would be one of their demands in order to form government with The Social Democrats after the elections 2010 while Alice Ã…strÃ¶m of the Left Party promised to motion this fall to give members of the government alliance parties the possibility to break up the legislation.
The Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde at the MalmÃ¶ rally
Yesterday, the annual Swedish political gathering in Almedalen began, where ministers, parliament members, journalists, pundits, lobbyists and interest groups traditionally meet during a week on the island of Gotland. The government thought that putting the FRA vote at the back of the spring schedule would make it go unnoticed. Instead, it’s the only current political hot topic as the Almedalen week is approaching with the Pirate Party in full presence on site to further push the agenda.