• Sweden edition
 
Stockholm Internet Forum
'Sweden not exempt from surveillance scrutiny'

'Sweden not exempt from surveillance scrutiny'

Published: 26 May 2014 16:52 GMT+02:00
Updated: 26 May 2014 16:52 GMT+02:00


This week, for a third straight year, Sweden is hosting the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), bringing together 450 activists, experts, and business representatives from over 90 countries for two days of discussions on "How freedom and openness on the internet can promote economic and social development worldwide".

Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its aid agency Sida, and .SE, the foundation responsible for Sweden's internet infrastructure, are sponsoring the event.

A year ago, it still felt necessary to justify why internet freedom would be a topic worthy of an international forum. Not any more — Edward Snowden took care of that in a spectacular fashion just a few weeks after last year's conference, with his revelations of mass surveillance, targeted intrusions and cryptographic sabotage by the US in ways that far exceeded a legal mandate or stated aim.

Since then, the global repercussions of Snowden's whistleblowing have placed internet freedom squarely in the sights of mainstream media. And the balance of the debate has shifted, from censorship to a focus on privacy and surveillance — topics where the west's record has proven far spottier.

After Snowden, it's clearer than ever that a citizen's right to access and express ideas online is not complete without the defence of an equally important corollary: The right to privacy.

The theme of this year's Stockholm Internet Forum has adapted to this new state of affairs: It's “Internet — privacy, transparency, surveillance, and control.” But even so, the forum is at a crossroads: How well it navigates three distinct challenges in the next few days and months will decide whether or not it can transition into a sustainable annual institution: These are 1) Shifting national priorities, 2) International relevance, and 3) Sweden's ability to continue projecting soft power among the cyber-activist civil society crowd.

The first challenge is a very possible change of government this coming September. Stockholm Internet Forum is the brainchild of Foreign Minister Carl Bildt's longtime adviser Olof Ehrenkrona, who has crafted many of Sweden's digital human rights initiatives over the past several years, and to whom credit is due for recognizing early on that internet freedom is a defining issue of our time.

The forum too has gained much of its prominence from Bildt's sustained investment of his substantial international political capital in this project, but also from the government's willingness to spend generously on gathering a highly dispersed bunch of people in Stockholm each year.

So the question becomes whether the Stockholm Internet Forum can survive the departure of these two men from the political stage. Behind the scenes, the talented team organising the forum should be able to move this project on to an institutional footing, but a new left-of centre government come September might decide the project is an initiative by the Alliance government, and wash its hands of it.

This would be a pity, if indeed the forum serves a genuine function. SIF does not exist in a vacuum: A growing number of global initiatives crowd the internet governance landscape: The UN-sanctioned Internet Governance Forum aims to bring together all the major stakeholders in internet governance — governments, corporations, and civil society representatives.

At the European level, EuroDIG fulfils a similar function. Brazil's NETmundial conference, inaugurated a month ago as a direct result of Snowden's leaks, also aims to forward a multi-stakeholder model for internet governance focused on human rights. Like-minded governments talk to each other at the Freedom Online Conference, while more hard-nosed international telecommunications regulations are negotiated at intermittent ITU conferences. Non-governmental organizations compare best practices at Personal Democracy Forum in New York or Access's RightsCon, while hackers congregate at venues such as the Chaos Communications Congress or Defcon... And this is just a fragmentary list.

Is there still room for SIF? Yes, and the reason why is hinted at in its list of participants: No other conference is so assiduous in championing the inclusion of civil society groups from the developing world and from authoritarian contexts — groups which otherwise do not have the independent means to take part in multi-stakeholder meetings. At SIF, these groups are able to build their networks to connect with the more established internet governance stakeholders, which are also invited.

This unique role in broadening the reach of the conversation also plays to one of Sweden's classic strengths — its ability to build and nurture networks of actors with aligned goals, based on its status as a soft-power superpower.

But herein lies the third challenge: Can Sweden maintain this reputation as a defender of internet freedom among cyber-activists in the wake of documents leaked late last year by Snowden that reveal its signals intelligence agency collaborated with the NSA on a targeted hacking project?

The story, in short: Sweden's signals intelligence agency FRA joined the NSA and the UK's GCHQ in testing a man-in-the middle attack which aims to install malware on targeted foreign computer systems. By law, the FRA is only allowed to passively listen to cross-border signals, after gaining permission from a special court. Although the FRA possibly did not contribute to the intrusion part of the operation (instead forwarding promising signals as triggers for the others to act on) that is at best a case of following the letter of the law in order to blatantly flaunt it in spirit, in the guise of a collaborative effort.

This leak underscores how Sweden, like many other countries, practices a multifaceted approach to statecraft — from projecting soft power for the purpose of promoting human rights online, to secret cyber-security and defence operations rooted in realpolitik. These activities clearly tend to work at cross-purposes. It is important for the credibility of SIF that the organizers acknowledge this. Where to draw that line is very much a recurring topic of discussion at SIF, and as hosts Sweden should not be exempt from that scrutiny.

It has not gone unremarked that neither Snowden nor Glenn Greenwald or Laura Poitras, the journalists who first broke the story, will be attending SIF. It is important that the organisers acknowledge their work, even at the risk of bringing up FRA's activities. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities for third parties to do so: As moderator, BBC HARDtalk presenter Stephen Sackur will have free reign to get to the heart of the matter, while a participant-led unconference is also set to converge on this issue.

Ideally, Sweden's government would use SIF as a platform to demonstrate its own improving commitment to internet freedom — for example, by publicly reporting aggregated data about the number of surveillance requests that are granted to FRA. And last year, Bildt became the first foreign minister to endorse a subset of ethical principles proposed by NGOs to constrain state surveillance. This year, why not announce an independent audit to see how well Sweden is complying? These are the kinds of concrete steps that would reassure participants at SIF that Sweden is indeed a committed proponent of internet freedom, beginning at home.

Stefan Geens is a strategist and concept developer at the service design agency Äventyret. He also writes about digital cartography at Ogle Earth.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Fastighetsbyrån

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week

All aboard! We're off to the island of Gotland for our Property of the Week - a home right in the heart of Medieval Visby. Whether you're looking to buy or dying to look - this is the place for you. READ  

Stockholm Pride 2014
Stockholm Pride glides into seventeenth year
Stockholm Pride. Photo: Erik Mårtensson/TT

Stockholm Pride glides into seventeenth year

The largest pride festival in Scandinavia is back for the 17th year in a row. The week promises to be packed with activities - and a glamorous opening gala with Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst. READ  

Preschool teacher arrested for child rape
Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Preschool teacher arrested for child rape

A man has been arrested on the suspicion of raping a child at the preschool where he is employed. READ  

Police arrest 17 people after fatal shooting
Police at the scene. Photo: Niklas Luks/TT

Police arrest 17 people after fatal shooting

Seventeen people were arrested during the early hours of Tuesday after a man was shot dead in central Sweden. Several of the suspects were already known to the police for gang crimes. READ  

Cops find 15kg cocaine stash in woman's car

Cops find 15kg cocaine stash in woman's car

A 35-year-old woman faces charges for aggravated narcotic crimes after police found 15 kilogrammes of unusually high-concentrated cocaine in her car. READ  

Opinion
The top six ways the US and Sweden differ

The top six ways the US and Sweden differ

Back home in the US and with a solid Swedish stint under his belt, contributor Steven Schier has listed what he thinks are the six biggest differences between Sweden and the states. READ  

Swedish expert slams Norway terror alert
Terrorism expert Ranstorp and a policeman in Norway. Photos: TT

Swedish expert slams Norway terror alert

A Swedish terrorism expert has come forward criticizing the way Norway has handled its recent terror threat, saying the day the threat began was a "total problem in intelligence". READ  

Swedish nurse reported for patient 'death wave'

Swedish nurse reported for patient 'death wave'

A nurse in southern Sweden has been reported for abuse at a senior care centre after she allegedly waved to a colleague with the hand of a recently-dead resident. READ  

Pandas Plopp and Polly born in Swedish zoo
Plopp and Polly, the offspring of Pandora the panda. Photo: Kolmården

Pandas Plopp and Polly born in Swedish zoo

A pair of red panda cubs have been born in central Sweden, a wildlife park announced on Monday. READ  

Green Party ranked 'most gay friendly' in Sweden

Green Party ranked 'most gay friendly' in Sweden

The Green Party's views are 88.6 percent "LGBT-friendly", a Swedish LGBT rights group claimed on Monday, making the Greens the most gay-friendly of all Sweden's parliamentary parties. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
People-watching, June 26th - 28th. Get inside Stockholm's hottest nightclubs
Gallery
Top ten Swedish taboos
Society
Seven-year-old Swede cycles to Berlin
Politics
'Gaza conflict needs help, not empty rhetoric'
Society
Swedes voted 'most beautiful' in the Nordics
Blog updates

27 July

Approaching Stockholm (Around Sweden in a kayak) »

"I woke up in the comfort of my own little cabin on Eva and Rolf’s boat, it was 7:30am and I was feeling a bit groggy after a couple of beers with all the lovely locals the night before. The previous day had really taken its toll on my body and I was very stiff and..." READ »

 

24 July

Sharing our Pride: Celebrating Love & the LGBT Community! (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"It’s mid- July in Stockholm, and with much of the city on vacation, things can seem a little quiet – the streets, the bus, and the grocery store. One thing that has not paused for a summer break, though, is preparation for Stockholm’s Pride Festival, which will take place from July 28 to August 2...." READ »

 
 
 
Business & Money
Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax
National
Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Society
What's On in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching July 23
National
Swedish cops elect not to shoot 'angry elks'
Business & Money
New alcohol retail rules threaten micro-breweries
Gallery
People-watching Båstad
Business & Money
Sweden falls to third in global innovation index
Society
Swedish ornithologists keep webcam watch
Photo: Andreas Nordström/Image Bank Sweden
Gallery
Top ten Swedish beach hot spots
Tech
Swedish Wiki vet sets new content record
Photo: Fastighetsbyrån
Lifestyle
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching July 15-16
Photo: Ola Ericson/Image Bank Sweden
Society
What's On in Sweden
Photo: Lisa Mikulski
National
Hope springs eternal for expat pet shop owner
Gallery
Princess Estelle steals limelight at mum's birthday
National
Swedes risk infants' lives by covering up prams
National
Swede runs for office just using Bitcoin funds
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

729
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se