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WikiLeaks Source Protection

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STOCKHOLM (Rixstep) — The WikiLeaks release of the Afghan war diaries unsettled many people. Now a story is circulating in Sweden about the inability of WikiLeaks to offer source protection.

The people at WikiLeaks summarily dismiss the claim.


Sweden - which otherwise more and more resembles a civil rights backwater, especially in comparison to the incomparable Iceland - does have one great thing: source protection. Media aren't only able to protect their sources, they're required by law to do so, and anyone found pressuring them to divulge their sources can be prosecuted under the law.

WikiLeaks is located 'everywhere' on the planet but their main interface is through the server park used by The Pirate Bay (and run by the former TPB crew). That interface is in Sweden. But according to the recent buzz in the Swedish media, this protection applies only to companies that have obtained a so-called 'utgivningsbevis'.

Google Translate defines this 'utgivningsbevis' as 'publication authorisation'. Which is close enough. More accurately it's a certification that one is a registered publisher. But there's a catch to this as well: registered publishers have to namely supply the name of their 'ansvarig utgivare' - the individual responsible for what's published (and the individual liable in the case of transgressions).

All Swedish publications supply the name of their 'ansvarig utgivare', even on the web. In many cases it's the editor in chief.

The 'utgivningsbevis' is issued by either the patent authority in accordance with the regulation for freedom of publishing from 1949 (part of the Swedish constitution) or by the radio and TV office in accordance with the freedom of speech law from 1991.

Both physical and web publications enjoy constitutional source protection when they've obtained their 'utgivningsbevis'. This constitutional protection means they cannot be censored and authorities cannot preview what is being published or in any way obstruct a publication. Sources have the right to remain anonymous and it becomes illegal to attempt to obtain their identity.


The story now circulating in Sweden and on the web originated at Sydsvenska Dagbladet, a newspaper from the southwest of Sweden often referred to as 'Sydsvenskan'. The kind editors at Sydsvenskan have now kindly published an English language version of the article.

'To my mind, it is too simple to claim that all WikiLeaks sources are totally protected in Sweden', says Hålkan Rustand, deputy to the Chancellor of Justice. 'If the constitutional laws are not applicable, ordinary liability laws take effect. This means a source could be brought to court by a common prosecutor.'

'But the question is what WikiLeaks is', continues Rustand - and then stops there. 'As this could become a case for the Chancellor of Justice, I don't want to preempt our review.'

Sydsvenskan also consulted with journalist Anders Olsson who had this to say.

'A website needs a licence in order to be protected by the laws regarding freedom of speech. You can't claim anonymity in the sense of the state being prohibited from investigating sources without the protection of constitutional law.'

'Even when the publisher is protected by constitutional law, the ban on investigating sources isn't watertight', adds Olsson. 'In the case of top secret information that is of great importance to the military, police and prosecutors have a duty to try to find the leak and prosecute the source.'

'I think it is a bit strange that WikiLeaks doesn't seem to know the rules.'

Sydsvenskan claimed they could not reach Julian Assange for comment but WikiLeaks tweeted the following in response to the article.

'The article currently being spun about WikiLeaks source protection legalities is false.'

'We Haven't Mentioned WikiLeaks'

One has to wonder what suddenly brought this on - particularly as Sydsvenskan decided to simultaneously publish a denial by current foreign minister Carl Bildt that Sweden and the US are discussing WikiLeaks. Bildt admits his government are discussing the 'Afghan operation' with the US but totally denies bringing up WikiLeaks in the ongoing discussions.

'Nothing about WikiLeaks as far as I know' was Bildt's response to a direct question on a national news broadcast by the state-owned television corporation. Bildt, a Mac user known to be extremely tech-savvy, insists he doesn't even know where the WikiLeaks portals are located.

'People say there are some in Sweden but I know nothing about it', Bildt insisted in 'Manuel' style before repeating his denial that there are ongoing discussions with the US about WikiLeaks.

The Pentagon demanded this past Thursday that WikiLeaks release all their files on the Afghan war diary and agree to not publish any more - and further: to remove all copies of the published documents from the web and the WikiLeaks archives.

Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell told the AFP that WikiLeaks have access to documents that haven't yet been published and that he hopes the Pentagon's entreaties will convince WikiLeaks to comply.

Postscript: Assange to Stockholm

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is coming to Stockholm on Saturday 14 August to participate in a seminar. Pentagon representatives have simultaneously reiterated their demand that WikiLeaks return all documents leaked.

Can the Swedish government be trusted?

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