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Sweden: A Model for Internet Freedom

Published on New Year's by Sweden's highly respected and eminent MFA Carl Bildt.

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'Sweden takes the lead', wrote Expressen when publishing this Carl Bildt screed on New Year's Day 2014. 'Many other countries see Sweden as an ideal when it comes to online freedom', they went on.

The ducks fluffed their feathers. They were so proud, so proud.

Carl Bildt is one of the few voices in the 'west' trying to block inquiries into NSA surveillance. And now he somehow got himself set as lead for an investigation into the NSA. And pundits understand already what will happen.

Carl Bildt has opposed the will of the people all his life: he opposed his own school teachers at the age of 17, and he cut off all support to Nelson Mandela at the age of 42.

NSA surveillance is a good thing, folks. So is surveillance by the FRA, Sweden's own NSA. So says Carl Bildt.

This article was revolting reading on the first of the year, especially when put into its proper context. Perhaps it's gastronomically more innocuous now, but perhaps not. Read at your own peril.

Sweden: A Model for Internet Freedom

A few years ago I said that the issues of freedom and security on the Internet would be amongst the main foreign policy issues in the coming years. There were probably many who smirked. Internet freedom was the central issue back then. We saw one regime after another around the world starting to censor, limit, and control what happened online.

First and foremost it was the authoritarian regimes that wanted to take this weapon from the hands of those who worked for freedom and change in their societies. The Internet challenged the hierarchies, and the hierarchies in the closed societies tried to fight back. I said that the issue of freedom online had become the frontline in efforts for freedom in the world.

After an initial uphill battle and intensive diplomatic work around the world, we achieved a major victory when the UN Council on Human Rights in June 2012 adopted Resolution 20/8. The resolution stated that the freedom to speak and gather information was as important online as in society in general.

Although it's doubtful all the states that ultimately supported the resolution were truly sincere in their support, it was an important victory when they stopped opposing it. In 2013 focus had shifted to questions about different types of online surveillance. After being dazed a while, I hope that we who are going to continue this debate will succeed in channeling it into constructive global dialogue.

That states have a responsibility for safety, and that states additionally conduct surveillance, is hardly news. It's about fairly basic functionality. In other contexts I've talked about the importance of knowledge-based security in our modern world. It's crucial that this work be regulated by law, controlled in unambiguous ways, and that its fundamentals be transparent.

At the big global cyber-security conference in Seoul in October, I presented seven principles that I believe should guide this work. They have since had some impact in the global debate. For some years now Sweden has a law where our intelligence agencies are closely regulated and directed, with independent agencies established for granting them permissions and for their control.

This law, and the agencies for permissions and control, are currently evolving into an international model. When I encounter questions abroad about our so-called 'FRA debate', they're full of admiration for our unambiguous laws, institutions, and constraints.

The panel appointed by president Obama to review NSA activities suggest, for example, big and important steps in what may be described as a 'Swedish' direction. I hope that democracy after democracy arrive at solutions in accordance with these principles. We must not forget that the debate can only take place in open democracies, whilst there's nary a sound in states built on illegal and total surveillance.

Now we're worried that regimes with very different interests will exploit our surveillance debate to achieve a global regime for the control of the Internet. This could also lead to total national control of the Internet. Countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China have different perspectives but basically the same position. This would be disastrous. Partly in terms of freedom. Partly because it would deprive the Internet of its nearly explosive dynamics that have driven such exceptional global development.

We should not underestimate the Internet's power to effect economic and social reform. According to the World Bank, if the number of people with broadband in a society increases by about ten percent, they'll increase their growth rate by more than one percent. That's huge numbers in Africa.

Developments are fast-paced. Approximately 65 percent of the world's population will in five years be covered by mobile broadband networks with significantly higher capacity than we have in Europe today. This is a revolutionary development.

Freedom of the Internet is therefore just as important as freedom in general. Today's debate must not lead to those who want to restrict the freedom of the Internet getting the upper hand. That would sooner or later lead to failure for all our efforts and for freedom online.

Internet issues must therefore remain central to Sweden's foreign policy - even in 2014.

Sweden's minister for foreign affairs

Bildt's now outdone himself when it comes to wobbly rhetoric - he says the FRA protect our freedoms online.
 - Anne Ramberg, head of Sweden's bar association
The big question is why Sweden, as opposed to the other EU states, kept quiet about the [FRA/NSA] affair.
 - Bengt Eliasson

See Also
Industry Watch: Carl Bildt Hits Head, Wakes Up in Aššur

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