For more than a decade Swedish netizens have been placed at the forefront of mainstream file-sharing culture, mainly through their historic links to the thriving BBS and warez scene (not to mention bandwidth on tap), but more recently due to their association with The Pirate Bay and similar sites.
This status did not go unnoticed by the world’s leading entertainment companies. Their response for the past several years has been to lobby, threaten and otherwise coerce Sweden’s government into taking tougher action against file-sharing sites and file-sharers themselves, and not without result.
In addition to raiding The Pirate Bay and sentencing its founders to jail, Swedish authorities have spent the last few years going after file-sharers who share many thousands of files at once. In theory these multiple infringements can result in a prison sentence, so on this basis the police are allowed to obtain file-sharers’ identities from ISPs.
However, if the Swedish government has its way, in future downloading a single movie could be enough for the authorities and copyright holders to come knocking.
The issue surrounds a proposed change in the law which would allow police and prosecutors to obtain the identity of individual, even though their alleged offense is only deemed serious enough to warrant a fine.
Although the proposed changes to Sweden’s Electronic Communications Act (LEK) are ostensibly being proposed to target fine-punishable offenses such as child grooming or even bullying, their scope would encompass petty file-sharing too.
“I would no longer need to make a preliminary assessment of the criminality of the offense I am investigating. If I have an IP address, can I request information about who is the subscriber, regardless of the seriousness of the offense,” says Henrik Rasmussen, a prosecutor specializing in copyright infringement.
“Of course, a violation of copyright law has been committed even if you just download a movie from a source that is not lawful. The risk then of course is that even those people will be contacted by the police, be interrogated, prosecuted and convicted,” Rasmusson adds.
While the proposed legislative change would not give police the power to search the homes of suspected file-sharers for these minor offenses, Rasmusson says there are other ways to get the evidence needed to prosecute.
“We can also call people in for questioning and it has happened several times before that when people have to face certain facts they admit the offense. We might use that on a larger scale,” Rasmusson adds.
Founder of the first Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge, told TorrentFreak that the proposals demonstrate the Swedish government’s continued “lapdoggery” towards the United States.
“This was point nine in a cable from the US Embassy regarding a checklist the US had given to the Swedish government to avoid trade sanctions from the United States.
“It is also remarkable how far beyond ’1984′-level surveillance this takes us when combined with the Data Retention Directive. In that dystopic novel, if the government didn’t see you doing something bad at the moment you did it, you were safe. With this law and Data Retention, the government gets the ability to rewind and play back if they missed your dissenting actions the first time.
“Our civil liberties are crumbling, and we’re venturing into very dangerous territory,” Falkvinge concludes.
Patrik Hiselius, a lawyer at ISP Telia Sonera, told SvD that it is important to find a balance between law enforcement, privacy and cost, and that combating file-sharing through legislation is not the answer.
“Put down the attempts to constantly find repressive means to the problem,” Hiselius advises, adding: “The way to curb file sharing is to provide better legal alternatives.”