Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft
------- Forwarded message follows ------- Date sent: Mon, 15 May 2000 11:17:09 -0400 To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: Declan McCullagh <email@example.com> Subject: FC: European Data Directive censors anti-bank, animal rights activists Copies to: Jacob Palme <firstname.lastname@example.org> Send reply to: email@example.com
[Another example of a well-intentioned law having terrible side effects that hurt actvists, consumers, and the less-powerful. The European Data Directive is simply not compatible with free speech. --Declan]
Date: Mon, 15 May 2000 11:36:37 +0200 To: Jacob Palme <firstname.lastname@example.org> From: Jacob Palme <email@example.com> Subject: Is there freedom of speech on the Internet in Sweden?
Sweden implemented the European Union data directive as a law in 1998. This law formally makes it illegal to mention information about any identifiable individual on the Internet, without prior permission from that person. For example, the law makes it illegal to criticise a public official unless that official permits you to publish the criticism.
Because of widespread complaints, the law was modified in 1998. The modification says that "minor violations" of the law will not be prosecuted.
There are now some decisions by the Swedish Data Inspectorate (the government agency responsible for implementing this law) which shows the limits of what kind of freedom of speech is allowed and not allowed on the Internet in Sweden.
How the Data Inspectorate has chosen to interpret the law is shown by some test cases.
In the first case, a person who felt that a large Swedish bank had wronged him, published a web page with the title "Swedish Anti-Bank Activity". In this page, he named a number of bank directors, who, in his opinion, had acted in ethically unacceptable ways. He was prosecuted, and sentenced to fines. This decision was upheld, on appeal, by the first appelate instance. The second appelate instance, the Swedish Highest Court, has not yet decided on this case. One issue which the Swedish Highest court will look like is if you can really regard a web page in the Swedish language to be exported outside Europe, just because the page is formally available to any Internet user, also outside Europe. The lower courts, however, said "yes" on this issue.
In the second case, an animal-rights organisation published a list of fur producers in Sweden. This case has not yet been decided on by the Swedish courts, but the Data Inspectorate has asked the prosecutor to prosecute the case.
Looking at the way the law is used, one can see that unpopular or controversial opinions are suppressed. In at least the first case, it might be possible that the laws on slander could be used instead, but these laws are more restrictive than the personal information act.
In the case of the animal-rights organisation, one might guess (though this is not written anywhere) that this organisation published names of fur manufacturers in order to give information to people performing illegal acts of sabotage against fur farms. And one might guess, that this is the real reason why the personal information act is used, even if this is not officially said.
In a third case, the Swedish telephone directory is not available on the Internet for anyone. The reason for this is that in that case, people in countries without adequate security protection might access to phone directory. However, people living in Sweden can get a personal account and password, and can then access the telephone directory from the Internet. Also, the yellow pages are available to anyone, it is only the white pages which are unavailable outside Sweden.
One should note, however, that these are exceptional cases. In almost all other cases, the Data Inspectorate has chosen not to act. Note that in all the three cases above, the page did not only contain information about a single individual, it contained lists of names of people. So maybe the act is unofficially not applied to mention of single individuals, although the act itself makes no such distinction. Also, the Data Inspectorate mostly acts when someone complains to them. So a probable reason why we have relatively large freedom of speech on the Internet may simply be that no one has bothered to complain.
For more information, see http://www.dsv.su.se/jpalme/society/eu-data-directive-freedom.html -- Jacob Palme <firstname.lastname@example.org> (Stockholm University and KTH) for more info see URL: http://www.dsv.su.se/jpalme/
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