ISP: Piracy Extortion Letters Are Easy to Thwart Without Logs

Opinion

Swedish Internet service provider Bahnhof is a fierce opponent of so-called copyright trolling efforts. Where other ISPs have shared the personal details of allegedly pirating subscribers, Bahnhof hasn't, simply because it keeps limited logs. The company's CEO wants to know why other ISPs aren't following suit.

In recent years file-sharers around the world have been threatened with lawsuits, if they don’t pay a significant settlement fee.

These so-called “copyright trolling” efforts have been a common occurrence in countries such as Germany and the United States, and in recent years they have conquered Sweden as well.

The process is fairly simple. Copyright holders ask local courts for a subpoena so they can demand the personal details of the subscribers that are connected to allegedly pirating IP-addresses.

The ISPs are then required to look these up in their databases and hand over the relevant personal information. The rightsholders use this to send a settlement claim to the subscribers, asking them to pay up, or else.

Most providers are not happy with this practice, but they see no other option than to cooperate. However, Swedish ISP Bahnhof is different. It is yet to hand over any data to copyright holders and publicly despises the copyright-trolling business model.

In recent comments on the matter, Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung says that subscribers of many of its competitors, including Comhem, Telia, and Bredbandsbolaget, have received a letter of formal notice in recent months.

“Many Swedes have been innocently accused of downloading a movie from the web. It is not just a legal scandal that this will happen. The letters also appear to be based on false information, but the individuals who get them still have difficulty defending against unfair bills of thousands of dollars,” he notes.

The CEO says that Bahnhof is the only major ISP to consistently refuse to disclose any data to these copyright holders, which the company describes as “blackmailers.”

There’s no magic involved really. Not keeping any extensive log files does the trick.

“How? The ingeniously simple solution is that we do not save log files. There is, therefore, nothing to share. The question, however, is why all the other operators save sensitive data about their customers,” Karlung adds.

Bahnhof’s solution is not new. When the first wave of copyright trolls came to Sweden the company severely limited the logs it kept. The company also urged other ISPs to follow suit, but most didn’t.

The question, is why? Karlung urges subscribers of the affected ISPs to ask about their logging policies, and in particular, the motivation behind them.

“There is something not right here. Why do the other broadband operators save as much information about you as a customer, when they are not technically in need of it to deliver a contracted service? Ask them about it!”

Bahnhof itself says that it keeps IP-address logs for a maximum of 24 hours. They base this practice on a European Court of Justice ruling which concluded that the Swedish adoption of the data retention directive is invalid.

“To our knowledge, it’s Bahnhof and Tele2 who operate their IP logs in this manner, other Swedish ISPs are likely to follow the data retention directive and keep IP logs over the last six months,” Bahnhof Communicator Carolina Lindahl tells TF.

This issue isn’t only limited to Sweden of course. It also applies to the United States and other countries where some providers keep logs for months, or years, without a legal requirement.

How long the other ISPs in Sweden keep their logs is unclear. If any readers get an answer from their ISP, they are welcome to share it below.

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