Sweden: Pirate Haven No More?

The recent events surrounding the raid of a Web hosting firm in Sweden have spilled over to the outside world, triggering an attack by Anonymous on several bank, university and government websites in Sweden.

The events trace back to the Oct. 1 arrest of Pirate Bay cofounder Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, which happened the same day police raided PRQ, a controversial Web host that is home to several torrent sites and others that feature unsavory content. The Pirate Bay, which formerly used the hosting services of PRQ, also went down the same day, but attributed its outage to a power failure.

Joining us to discuss these developments is Andy Greenberg, a journalist and author of the new book This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information. Greenberg, who has been covering the recent string of stories coming out of Sweden, talks about how Sweden’s culture of unencumbered Internet is coming into conflict with Swedish (and international) law, as well as the varying degrees of tolerance for free speech versus intellectual property.

Download the podcast (15:11 minutes) or use the player:

Here are some excerpts:

TechNewsWorld: Let me first quickly recap what’s happened in the last week or so for anybody who might not be up to speed. On Monday, Oct. 1, Stockholm police raided PRQ, which is a Web host that has for years been linked to some pretty controversial sites such as WikiLeaks, the Man-Boy Love Association website, as well as a Chechen rebel site and other websites of that ilk that other Web hosts might stay away from.

PRQ has also hosted The Pirate Bay, which is noteworthy because right around the same time as the raid on PRQ, The Pirate Bay went offline. And while blips in The Pirate Bay’s service are nothing new, it was offline for a couple days, and that is a uniquely long black-out for The Pirate Bay.

And it’s worth noting, also, that Gottfrid Svartholm, who is a co-founder of both PRQ and The Pirate Bay, was detained last month in Cambodia and extradited to Sweden where he is, as I understand it, currently being held for hacking into a Swedish IT company. So there is kind of a confluence of stories going.

Wild West?

First off, let me ask you about the perception that a lot of people have that Sweden is something of a bastion of Internet freedom and that it’s really a place where anything goes on the Web. This seems to be kind of the image it has throughout a lot of the Western world. What do you think about that perception, and is it really a place of more unencumbered Internet freedom than other places?

Andy Greenberg: Well, I think that culturally, Sweden has always been a bastion of Internet freedom. Sweden produced the first Pirate Party, for instance, and it produced these institutions like PRQ, the most free speech-preserving Web host in the world, and it produced The Pirate Bay, which calls itself the world’s most resilient file-sharing site, and they’ll fight off any lawyer or any company.

But I don’t know if that is really a matter of Swedish law, or really just a matter of Swedish culture. It seems in some ways that this culture of ultra-free Internet is coming into conflict with Swedish law, probably most significantly with the conviction of The Pirate Bay’s founders in 2010 under copyright infringement in a Swedish court.

Culture Clash

TNW: You mentioned how Swedish Internet culture is kind of butting up against Swedish law, and I know it’s been butting up against laws in other countries as well. Earlier this year the U.K. and the Netherlands ordered Internet services providers to block access to The Pirate Bay, and that is something that had already happened in Belgium and in Italy. What sort of interaction have you seen between Sweden and countries that are also in the EU trying to kind of put the squeeze on these “freedom fighting” websites.

Greenberg: Well, Sweden itself has been sort of swinging back in this pendulum of freedom versus security. In 2008, they passed a law called the FRA law — I’m not sure what they stands for in Swedish — but it basically allows the authorities to wiretap any information that passes over the country’s networks, which is something that doesn’t even exist in the U.S., and it’s a terrifying idea for people like those who run PRQ.

Definitely America, the MPAA and the RIAA, were pressuring the Swedish government to crack down on The Pirate Bay as kind of public enemy No. 1 of copyright infringement, and they were successful. After the raid of the PRQ servers in 2006 to take The Pirate Bay’s data and use it for forensic evidence, and then finally the trial that ended in 2010, I think the copyright lobby cooperating with law enforcement in Sweden, has successfully shut that down.

TNW: I know that you’ve spoken with at least one person over at PRQ. What’s the reaction from them been about this most recent raid and all these goings-on in Sweden?

Greenberg: Well, PRQ has sort of spun off from The Pirate Bay. I spoke with the owner of the company and he sort of doesn’t know what is happening. He didn’t know why he was raided. He told me that The Pirate Bay hasn’t been hosted at PRQ since 2010. But when I asked him then, “Why is it then that The Pirate Bay went down at the same time as PRQ and came up at the same time as PRQ after raid?” he was almost as puzzled as I was. He was sort of thinking it was just some strange coincidence….He told me he found out later that two of the targets of the raid were another file-sharing site and then an Android-piracy site where you can download free apps.

TNW: Yeah, it seems like the conclusion he drew was that it was all about intellectual property as opposed to any of the more “iffy” moral sites.

Greenberg: There was a lot of speculation that the current investigation into WikiLeaks might be involved in the PRQ raids. But there is no evidence of that — there’s all these other very sort of “fringey” sites hosted there — like blogs that have been accused of defamation and the Chechen rebel website you mentioned — and it seems that none of those were targeted here and it really is just about copyright infringement. And it’s interesting to see where the powers-that-be want to focus their attention. You can defame who you want and you can call for death to the infidels, but no Dark Knight Rising. That’s not allowed.

David Vranicar is a freelance journalist and author ofThe Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis. You can check out hisECT News archive here, and you can email him at david[dot]vranicar[at]newsroom[dot]ectnews[dot]com.

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