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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: European Data Directive censors anti-bank, animal rights activists

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Mon, 15 May 2000 11:17:09 -0400
To:             	politech@vorlon.mit.edu
From:           	Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
Subject:        	FC: European Data Directive censors anti-bank, animal rights
Copies to:      	Jacob Palme <jpalme@dsv.su.se>
Send reply to:  	declan@well.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.


Date: Mon, 15 May 2000 11:36:37 +0200
To: Jacob Palme <jpalme@dsv.su.se>
From: Jacob Palme <jpalme@dsv.su.se>
Subject: Is there freedom of speech on the Internet in

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

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

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 <jpalme@dsv.su.se> (Stockholm University and KTH) for more
info see URL: http://www.dsv.su.se/jpalme/

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