”Child pornography is great,” the speaker at the podium declared enthusiastically. ”It is great because politicians understand child pornography. By playing that card, we can get them to act, and start blocking sites. And once they have done that, we can get them to start blocking file sharing sites”.
The venue was a seminar organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Stockholm on May 27, 2007, under the title ”Sweden — A Safe Haven for Pirates?”. The speaker was Johan Schlüter from the Danish Anti-Piracy Group, a lobby organization for the music and film industry associations, like IFPI and others.
I was there together with two other pirates, Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge, and veteran Internet activist Oscar Swartz. Oscar wrote a column about the seminar in Computer Sweden just after it had happened. Rick blogged about it later, and so did I. (All links in Swedish.)
”One day we will have a giant filter that we develop in close cooperation with IFPI and MPA. We continuously monitor the child porn on the net, to show the politicians that filtering works. Child porn is an issue they understand,” Johan Schlüter said with a grin, his whole being radiating pride and enthusiasm from the podium.
And seen from the perspective of IFPI and the rest of the copyright lobby, he of course had every reason to feel both proud and enthusiastic, after the success he had had with this strategy in Denmark.
Today, the file sharing site The Pirate Bay is blocked by all major Internet service providers in Denmark. The strategy explained by Mr. Schlüter worked like clockwork.
Start with child porn, which everybody agrees is revolting, and find some politicians who want to appear like they are doing something. Never mind that the blocking as such is ridiculously easy to circumvent in less than 10 seconds. The purpose at this stage is only to get the politicians and the general public to accept the principle that censorship in the form of ”filters” is okay. Once that principle has been established, it is easy to extend it to other areas, such as illegal file sharing. And once censorship of the Internet has been accepted in principle, they can start looking at ways to make it more technically difficult to circumvent.
In Sweden, the copyright lobby tried exactly the same tactic a couple of months after the seminar where Johan Schlüter had been speaking. In July 2007, the Swedish police was planning to add The Pirate Bay to the Swedish list of alleged child pornography sites, that are blocked by most major Swedish ISPs.
The police made no attempt whatsoever at contacting anybody from The Pirate Bay, which they of course should have done if they had actually found any links to illegal pictures of sexual child abuse. The plan was to just censor the site, and at the same time create a guilt-by-association link between file sharing and child porn.
In the Swedish case, the plan backfired when the updated censorship list leaked before it was put into effect. After an uproar in the bloggosphere, the Swedish police was eventually forced to back down from the claim that they had found illegal child abuse pictures, or had any other legal basis for censoring the file sharing site. Unlike in Denmark, The Pirate Bay is not censored in Sweden today.
But the copyright lobby never gives up. If they are unable to get what they want on the national level, they will try through the EU, and vice versa.
The big film and record companies want censorship of the net, and they are perfectly willing to cynically use child porn as an excuse to get it. All they needed was a politician who was prepared to do their bidding, without spending too much effort on checking facts, or reflecting on the wisdom of introducing censorship on the net.
Unfortunately they found one in the newly appointed Swedish EU commissioner Cecilia Malmström. In March 2010 she presented an EU directive to introduce filtering of the net, exactly along to the lines that Johan Schlüter was advocating in his speech at the seminar in 2007.
I assume that commissioner Malmströms’s motives are honourable, and that she genuinely believes she is doing something good that will prevent sexual child abuse. But sweeping a problem under the carpet, or hiding it behind filters, can never be the proper solution. If there actually are sites distributing pictures of sexual child abuse openly on the net, the sites should be shut down and the people behind them should be put in prison (after a proper trial).
But Cecilia Malmström‘s Internet censorship directive will have no effect at all on sexual child abuse in the world. All she will have achieved if she is successful with this directive, will be to legitimize the principle of Internet censorship in Europe, just like the copyright lobby wanted her to.
It would be very sad if she succeeds.
—Christian Engström, Pirate MEP, source.