© Foto: Anders Jensen-Urstad. Mars 2009. CC-BY

Pirate Party

"Protests Against ACTA are Hard to Repeat"

You are a delegate in the European Parliament for the Swedish Pirate Party since December 1st, 2011. What are your experiences so far?
I have made many different experiences since being in the European Parliament. I always used to fear that I would not be able to be very disciplined in my work. The other thing I expected was that being a young girl and the youngest deputy would be an issue. But it is not such a big difference, and I have not seen people of different ages being treated differently. The European Parliament is a diverse place; it is interesting to meet so many people from all over. However, the European Parliament as a political institution can be frustrating. I have also been warned about the fact that the parliament resets every five years, half of the deputies are replaced in every election and this means that the parliament does not have a learning curve.

This year something special happened within the European Parliament: The protest against ACTA was actually the first time citizens were standing up for civil rights, trying to influence the European Parliament to vote against it. Do you think something similar can be achieved more often in the future?
I think it will be very, very difficult. The thing with the ACTA debate was that all the citizens in all the different member states were protesting at more or less the same time. For the European Parliament as an institution this means the lack of a comfort zone. Normally, when someone is protesting, you would be able to talk to your other colleagues from a different member state and they would say: "our citizens are not protesting", which would provide a zone of relief. But in the ACTA debate it was different. Wherever you turned there was a different type of reinforcing feedback. Many national parliaments were postponing their decisions to wait for the European Parliament and there was really a lot of political pressure on the parliament. I think it would be very difficult to recreate that situation.

What is the currently most urgent topic on your agenda in regards to net politics?
Everything is urgent, but you have different types of urgency. Copyright has been an urgent issue to address since 20 years. In that period we were pushing copyright laws in the wrong direction - in one that is clearly not compatible with the way people want to interact and do interact with culture in their day-to-day lives. It is difficult to imagine an issue that is so urgent and that is given so little space for change. The only thing that is discussed in Parliament is the enforcement of the copyright law and there is a very low willingness to discuss anything else. This is very tragic.

The European Commissioner Neelie Kroes said just a few weeks ago that she sees the need to reform the copyright law.
She has been saying that already for two to three years. But let me give an example about what I mean when I say that it is going in the wrong direction. Last Thursday we discussed the orphan works directive in the European Parliament. This directive is regulating what will be done with copyright protected content of which the author is unknown. Instead of discussing about orphan works and unknown authors, the parliamentarians spoke about the importance of protecting authors and remunerating them correctly. So the debate went in the wrong direction.

I also want to talk about the FRA law in Sweden and what it means for Facebook`s new data centre. By the end of 2012 Facebook`s data centre in Lulea should start its service. Because of the Swedish surveillance law all the data pool of the European Facebook users can be monitored by the Swedish executives. What do you think about this kind of mass surveillance?
I disagree with the legal framework. We had big protests going on about that law in Sweden. There were rumours about brutal political pressure applied on individual deputies of the national parliament. However, at the same time I think they would not necessarily be able to get anything useful out of that. But maybe it will force Facebook to enable their users to control their own information by applying encryption schemes. I think in Sweden so far you don`t have an obligation to unencrypted data for the authorities. It would be good if you have a big social network player like Facebook going into the area of encryption.

Do you really think they will do that?
It all depends on what people demand. Facebook targets consumers reasonably, so it would make sense for Facebook to accommodate the desire of their customers to encrypt their information in order to avoid surveillance. In general, encryption is a very useful tool for people dealing with data in their daily lives because they can stay in control over what they say, to whom they say it and what stays private.

Coming to the Swedish Pirate Party founders recent blog entry on child pornography: "Three reasons possession of child porn must be re-legalized in the coming decade" was the title of Rick Falkvinges blog entry. Do you agree with this title? And what about his main arguments?
First of all, I did not read his blog entry very carefully. I think the principle that communication needs to be free and easy to evolve is a good basic idea for society. But it is a bit unnecessary and provocative to put this title up. When there are so many children suffering from terrible memories of abuse, I think this was a very clumsy way to try and express this value of free communication. The child protection debate in general suffers from these clumsy expressions made in the heat of the moment by people who do not think about what they are saying. In the child porn debate we only come up with measures to control the dissemination of images and videos, but we give very little attention on the possibilities of how to prevent the actual abuse itself. We talk very little about what type of measures we need to help victims. Is it really OK, if tabloids are reporting about cases of bad sexual abuse of children in detail? A child is exposed to a sexual trauma, certainly having this displayed on the bulletin board of all the largest tabloids is problematic.

What measures to fight child pornography would be welcomed by you?
In Germany there was a long debate. I would agree with taking down websites when you discover child porn on the servers and then try tracing it back to the source. Do something about the perpetrators rather than blocking websites or punishing the person who accidentally ended up having it on his computer. I somehow agree with that type of arrangement. The focus must be put on the criminal activity that is taken from the place of origin because that is the place where the harm occurs. If it was the intention of Rick Falkvinge to express that, I think that he expressed in a very clumsy way. This is such an infected area that touches so many people that you really have to think about it very carefully before you speak. I can understand that people were offended.

In Austria and Germany the Pirate Parties were distancing themselves from his blog entry.
I can understand why they would do that. It is a very sensitive topic to discuss and it is good to be careful.

In April this year there was a meeting between all the Pirate Parties in Prague to form a European Party. Do you think that this would help the movement?
I think that would be beneficial for the work in the European Parliament. But at the moment the national discussions are so wide apart that it does not matter much. For example, In Sweden in 2005 we discussed how torrent trackers could be used morally in society. Should we rely on the network to see the unpopular files or do we have a closed tracker with a ratio system? In Belgium they don`t need that discussion because they have no telecommunication infrastructure. The Belgians have been ruled by this telecommunications duopoly for 20 years and they had traffic limits. That does not make sense to use torrent tracker technology in a country where you are only allowed to use four GB of traffic on a cable connection per month. A European collaboration organisation would maybe serve us as a tool to understand that the national debates are at very different levels, but in the European Parliament it would definitely be useful.

What potential do you see for Pirate Party movement?
Every political movement has a lot of potential. I am very happy about the successes in Germany, they do a lot of good work. In many places around Central Europe the Pirates are in a good place to challenge the older institutions that don`t work anymore because they suffer from extreme unpredictability. But time will tell.

Do you want to be part of the next European Parliament again if you get the chance to?
You don`t get the chance, I think you create your chances to become a deputy again. But I don`t know. There are some things I would probably like to do instead. I would like to study more, for example.

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Barbara Wimmer


Preisgekrönte Journalistin, Autorin und Vortragende. Seit November 2010 bei der Kurier-Futurezone. Schreibt und spricht über Netzpolitik, Datenschutz, Algorithmen, Künstliche Intelligenz, Social Media, Digitales und alles, was (vermeintlich) smart ist.

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Barbara Wimmer