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Censorship Your Rights Online

It's Hard To Run a Blog In Sweden 299

Posted by kdawson
from the you-own-their-comments dept.
mpawlo writes "Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is being investigated by a prosecutor because of his blog. In a blog post, Mr. Bildt states that some 13.000 comments are posted (Swedish link) on his blog and that he and his staff try to erase all inappropriate comments. However, they apparently missed a comment proposing genocide of Palestinians. This prompted a Swedish leftist blogger to report the conservative foreign minister's blog and the comment to the authorities. Now a prosecutor is looking into the matter and the foreign minister will likely be held responsible for the comments due to poor Swedish legislation on freedom of speech relative to the Internet."
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It's Hard To Run a Blog In Sweden

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  • Re:How much... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:37PM (#19612633) Homepage Journal

    ... do you want to bet that the leftist blogger is the one who posted the "comment"?

    If people don't get drug into court for bullshit laws, the bullshit laws tend to stay on the books.

    It's unfortunate that most of the world seems to work that way, but there you have it.

    It's probably better for everyone if that sort of thing actually happens, especially if it happens to high-profile individuals. Even the individuals getting busted, in the long run (it's cold comfort when you're in court, though.)

  • Pay attention everyone; expecially those of you who support hate crime and speech laws. This is what happens when you regulate certain "unacceptable" kinds of speech with the intent of "correcting" unpopular beliefs.

    "Thoughtcrime" won't be relegated to fiction for long.
  • by doombringerltx (1109389) on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:38PM (#19612643)
    but trolling one couldn't be easier
  • by Serapth (643581) on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:39PM (#19612667)
    I don't get what the problem is? Genocide of the Palestinians would be a valid answer.

    Not a very good one mind you, but it would be effective.


    I kid. I kid.

    All countries go through stuff like this because laws arent fast enough to keep up with technology. Or, the people creating laws don't understand the technology. Happened before and will happen again, in every country around the globe.
  • by Xoltri (1052470) on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:41PM (#19612699)
    Would the owner of an apartment building be liable if someone posted a similar message on a bulletin board along side all of the for sale ads from other tenants?
  • Yowza. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by capologist (310783) on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:42PM (#19612703)
    I don't know anything about Swedish law (except that Pirate Bay seems to get away with anything they want), but if the blog host is making reasonable good faith efforts to remove inappropriate comments and missed one, it seems morally reprehensible to hold him responsible.
  • by Goaway (82658) on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:48PM (#19612795) Homepage
    So you think there should be no limits on speech?

    Does this include death threats? Incitement to kill people? Instructions for how to make nuclear weapons? Fundraising for terrorists? Lying to courts? The president lying to the people? Fraud?
  • Re:Tough cookies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:52PM (#19612845) Homepage Journal

    It's too easy to cop-out with "oh someone else posted that comment" if one's intent is to spread violence. If the blogger left the comment there for a significant period of time, then he is probably guilty. And if the comments were too much for him to police himself, then he should have hired someone or limited the number of comments.

    I simply don't monitor comments on my website (some other types of content besides blog posts permit them, or I would have said "blog") and frankly I think that is the way to go. Because if you remove some comments, you can be stuck removing other comments... but then, this is the US. I still reserve the right to remove whatever I like, of course, and if something is illegal or just nasty and I notice it then I remove it. But if I had a policy of policing then I would have to follow that policy.

    Sorry to hear it's different in Sweden, I would run my blog out of a less oppressive country (in terms of freedom of speech, that is.)

  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Friday June 22, 2007 @03:53PM (#19612867)

    Better yet, genocide of the Palestinians and the Israelis. Might as well be equal opportunity about it.
    While we're at it, jail time for the rapist and the victim. Fighting back is assault, right?
  • by Arthur B. (806360) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:15PM (#19613157)
    There's no limit on baking cakes either, that doesn't mean you can make an arsenic cake for your mother-in-law. There is nothing wrong with "expressing a death stress", what's wrong is the threat to kill, be it in form of speech, explicit, implicit etc. In the cases you mention, speech is just a vehicle for a crime (breach of contract, death threat etc), it doesn't make speech *the* crime.

    There ought to be no limit on free speech means that speech should not be limited *for itself*. Hating someone is not a crime, therefore, spreading hateful messages isn't either.
  • Re:How much... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:21PM (#19613255) Homepage Journal

    We've been imprisoning people for smoking cannabis for decades, doesn't look like that bullshit law is going away any time soon.

    It's not universal. First, we're imprisoning mostly the wrong people for the aforementioned effect to occur, people who don't have any money. If you get busted for drugs, they're likely to take away all your money and claim it came from drugs whether it did or not; so see point 1.

    Second, the War On Some Drugs is too profitable for too many influential groups for this to work. Think about all the beneficiaries! The biggest motivation to ban Marijuana originally came from Hearst (with his paper industry) and DuPont (with his plastics industry) but it also benefits the pharmaceutical companies, who get to sell bullshit drugs for things which can be treated with cannabis; the liquor industry, which would probably see a decline in sales; the private incarceration industry including both companies which build prisons and companies which run them; and of course, the justice system, which has dramatically higher volume with marijuana illegal than it would without it. There's also special organizations created just to reduce marijuana production, like CAMP, which would have no reason to exist without the prohibition (although they did cut CAMP's funding this year, or so I hear.)

    What I find particularly annoying about this issue, though, is that the American public is being pretty fucking stupid by going along with the bullshit arguments. I don't know about you but I learned in school (partly in college, but just a lame two-year) that prohibition was an abject failure all along, and that it was terminated because it essentially provided endless positive PR for organized crime; they could make people happy and grateful by breaking the law! And, of course, make the usual pile of money in the process. It made gangsters famous instead of infamous and made them rich to boot. But we have precisely the same situation today with the other controlled substances; plus it is honestly true that some import drug sales fund terrorism. (Of course, so did paying OBL's Taliban to combat opium production in afghanistan, but never mind that for just now.) So the government is telling us "don't buy drugs, because they fund terrorism" while at the same time literally creating a market for foreign drugs by outlawing their production (and use of course) here in the states! And on top of that, it harms the US economy by sending that money out into the world instead of having it spent here and remain in local communities, let alone in the country.

    I don't understand how so many people in this country can continually vote to keep drugs illegal except to believe that they did not at all learn the lessons of prohibition of alcohol - the only constitutional amendment ever passed that limits freedoms. And, of course, an amendment which was later revoked.

  • by computational super (740265) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:26PM (#19613297)
    Which kind of makes the so called "Freedom of Speech" pointless.

    I think you're confusing "pointless" with "ignored". I support freedom of speech - total, absolute, unregulated (and whatever your "what about" question is, the answer is, "yes, damn it"). A lot of people say they support freedom of speech, but don't really support it because they fear it. If you think that there ought to be freedom of speech with some regulations, then that's pointless, but that's you. If there are any regulations, then it's no more "free" than China or Stalinist Russia; it's just a different sort of lack of freedom.

  • by aminorex (141494) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:35PM (#19613433) Homepage Journal
    It's odd that advocating the status quo should be considered hate speech, don't you think?
  • Re:Tough cookies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:40PM (#19613501) Journal
    Incitement to violence isn't protected speech anywhere

    If you are not allowed to advocate the overthrow of your government, your free speech is exactly worthless.
  • Re:How much... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by letxa2000 (215841) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:49PM (#19613635)

    However, they apparently missed a comment proposing genocide of Palestinians. This prompted a Swedish leftist blogger to report the conservative foreign minister's blog and the comment to the authorities. Now a prosecutor is looking into the matter and the foreign minister will likely be held responsible for the comments due to poor Swedish legislation on freedom of speech relative to the Internet."

    Huh? What's wrong with free speech in Europe that it is apparently illegal to propose genocide of Palestinians? That solution sounds disgusting and I don't support it, but someone who feels differently damn well should be allowed to suggest it. On or off the Internet.

    I know Europe is supposed to be some paradise or something where no-one ever gets sick and everyone has health care, but I think I'll stick to the United States, even if it's supposedly fascist. Yeah, right.

  • I disagree. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @05:05PM (#19613843) Homepage Journal
    This is what happens when laws blame those who are innocent and hold guiltless the guilty. Now, I have no objection to the prosecuting of conservatives, and think law enforcement agencies should be encouraged in the practice.... when the person is actually guilty of something more than not happening to be a god.

    Censorship, hate-crime laws and speech restriction laws can be entirely valid, fair and appropriate. When they are, they should exist - no matter who doesn't like it. But when they exist, they should be balanced with common law principles of reasonableness and fairness. The sole purpose of such principles is to prevent useful laws from being abused, which is wont to happen when unreasonable and abusive use of the law is tolerated.

    True free speech is actually much rarer in countries that tolerate the abuse of laws, because you can usually be prosecuted for something. Litigation-happy cultures do exist, sad to say, and they suffer horribly for it. America may nominally require freedom of speech, under the first amendment, but what's the reality? One potential case in Sweeden that may never go anywhere versus how many actual convictions for "unlawful" speech in the US this year?

    Before we slam Sweden too much for one minor incident and call it "thoughtcrime", I'd point out that it's hard to compare this with, just for example, the crimes the CIA are now admitting to carrying out on those who thought wrong. I'd also point out that the Scandanavian countries - for all their laws on speech - are most unlikely to carry out such abuses. Freedom of speech is entirely right and proper, but it seems very clear that protecting freedom of speech is more complicated than simply saying that it's a nice idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 22, 2007 @05:12PM (#19613961)
    >So you think there should be no limits on speech?

    Absolutely.

    >Does this include death threats?

    Intent to murder is a crime. What's the need for a law against death threats?

    >Incitement to kill people?

    That's their problem, if they go through with it. The only exception would be inciting a mentally ill individual to do this. However, I would argue this would be assault/abuse, since the mentally ill are often protected like this (and deserve to be).

    >Instructions for how to make nuclear weapons?

    Considering they're already public, and have been for decades, I think that's proof enough that any worry over this is far overrated.

    >Lying to courts?

    Perjury is a crime only because the results of it put innocent men in prison. The crime isn't in the speech, it's in the results of it (much like all your previous examples).

    >The president lying to the people?

    That's nothing new and we are supposed to vote him out of office for that. If we choose not to, that's our fault.

    >Fraud?

    It's not the speech, again. It's the broken contract. You agree to do X for Y compensation but you don't. That's a simple contract case.

    The ultimate test for all your questions is this: Could I publish a book with the questioned content -- in the case of your death threat question, you may need to depersonalize it so you don't actually make an individual believe you are going to kill them. If the answer is yes, that speech is free. The basic idea is, legally speaking, if you remove the mens rea from the act, can you do it? If so, the crime isn't unilaterally illegal -- it requires actual intent.
  • by Xoltri (1052470) on Friday June 22, 2007 @05:56PM (#19614437)
    And that's why it is stupid. Does it matter if the bulletin board is electronic or cork and push pins? No.

  • The US is fairly lenient on defamation--defamatory speech is prohibited only when there is malice behind it, unlike Britain. Defamation and fraud are the misrepresentation of fact. Americans have (and passionately believe in) the freedom to express any political opinions--be it favoring the violent overthrow of the government, the extermination of Canadians, or even the idea that homosexuality is not okay with God. If you express these beliefs, the police won't come after you like they do in Europe. People just think you're a few bananas short of a fruit salad.

  • Re:I disagree. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:04PM (#19615583) Homepage Journal
    Again, I entirely agree that it doesn't make me the moral arbiter, or any other individual. The important word there, however, is "individual". Common law protections, provided they have power and bite, should be entirely sufficient to prevent any individual from turning reasonable restraint into unreasonable constraint.

    I also agree that Europe was destroyed by morons and thugs. There is not one village ANYWHERE in Europe that does not have a memorial to the fallen in World War I every bit as extensive as the memorials in US cities for their fallen in Vietnam. I advise those unfamiliar with the Great War to observe the difference in scale. My family was fortunate - they only suffered a 2/3rds loss of the males of that generation.

    My concern is that the support for the Iraq war and other disastrous mis-adventures mirrors Plato's complaints about democracy in his book The Republic. Democracy is, in my opinion, the superior political system, but we're repeating 2,000+ year old mistakes. (Plato's home city repeatedly waged popularist pro-active "defensive" wars, utterly obliterating their economy and devastating society, not to mention creating dangerous enemies that never existed before.) How the hell can anyone claim that there is a single "mature" Western civilization if said civilization has demonstrated equal ignorance, folly and sociopathic tendencies as our ancient ancestral warrior societies? Maturity comes not from age or experience but from what you do with both. Clearly, actions reveal western industrial nations have chosen a path of not doing anything with either.

    (This isn't to say anyone else is any better. Japan is busy re-writing textbooks to show the history of Okinawa never happened and have already done so on a bunch of other crimes against humanity. Most of the middle east has yet to comprehend the idea of humanity, despite inventing the word to describe all humans as a unified whole. Russia seems to think the James Bond movies are a training manual. Mind you, in Britain, Yes Prime Minister IS a training manual for the civil service.)

    On the basis that all existent civilizations are currently demonstrably immature and beneath contempt, it would seem vital to ensure that all powers - including the freedoms of individuals, but also including any limits on those same freedoms - be bound at the outer limits until such time that something that can actually pass for maturity sinks through the brains of people.

    Once we do indeed have some maturity as a people, fine. We can get rid of constraints that - in a mature society - are indeed more harmful than helpful. I've no problem with that. And, yes, I do believe humanity will eventually get to something that resembles a utopian society for all peoples of all cultures. It'll just take a lot longer if we pretend that what we have is any better than the frankly moronic societies that existed at the dawn of human civilization. At least they had the excuse of ignorance.

  • The Real Deal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by liangzai (837960) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:25PM (#19615775) Homepage
    Sweden actually has the oldest legislation there is regarding freedom of speech. The problem is that it is too old.

    Two separate acts, with a common ground, regulate freedom of the press and freedom of broadasting media respectively -- it is technology dependent. Anyone publishing (or broadcasting) media must have a license to do so, and whoever has the license is the registered publisher, who alone will face any legal actions if anyone in the staff commits a "crime of freedom of speech" (that is what is it called, totally Orwellian, I know).

    An exception to this was when two journalists (Guillou and Brattström) were convicted of spying when they exposed the Information Bureau, an illegal intelligence agency.

    Anyway, people publishing without such a license (like bloggers) are not protected by the two separate acts that regulate freedom of speech. Instead, private citizens are subject to a "Personal Data Act", that initially made it an offense to publish virtually anything about anyone without written permission. People have been convicted for describing colleagues breaking a foot in the yard under this law. It was initially a very harsh interpretation of a EU directive.

    Reality later had its impact as the Internet grew larger, and especially since Web 2.0 applications began to spread on the net (blogs, newspaper comments and so forth). The "Personal Data Act" was changed accordingly this year, and private citizens publishing stuff that is of an artistic or journalistic nature are in essence covered by one of the two basic acts on freedom of speech (both of which are part of the constitution, which by the way is not as strong as the American constitution), namely the one regulating broadcasting media. People who blog for other reasons than debate or journalism have no such protection.

    Mr. Bildt's blogging is thus covered by the constitution. But the comments are not, because yet another law covers such elements, namely the so called BBS Law (or law on electronic billboards). This law states that anyone operating a billboard (or equivalent; a blog is a billboard acccording to this definition) has the same role as a registered publisher in a media company, and therefore has to surveill the platform he is letting up for public use and also take action within reasonable time, should there be reason to do so.

    Practically, this means one has to remove illegal messages or comments within a week from being notified of their existence. One can also apply for a license to operate as a media company, to get the fullest protection of the law (which means that only a special prosecutor can prosecute). But then one also have to save every intermediate state of the media in question, that is the state inbetween every comment and change on the blog, like a versioning system -- this is too overwhelming for a private publisher of a blog. In the current case, a common prosecutor is investigating the case -- no one has yet been notified of anything, it is just an investigation.

    So, these are the basics of Swedish "freedom of speech". In essence, the law has a 16th century view on such freedoms of expression, only recognizing media companies as valid publishers. The common man has until fairly recently been rather unfree. The press and the media are thought to be "representatives" of the people, which is why the media is usually called "the third state power" in Sweden. Regular folks are not supposed to have freedom of speech. The press and the broadcasting media are an elite group with special privileges, and recently they have begun attacking blogs for infringing on those privileges.

    Regarding the current case, there will probably be no action, since Carl Bildt has had his foreign ministry staff go through all comments and remove those that may be unlawful. They have missed one or two such comments after being notified, but the law isn't that rigorous. A reasonable effort has been made, and it is likely no one will be held accountable for anything in this matter.

    On the ot
  • Re:I disagree. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Saturday June 23, 2007 @12:12AM (#19617045) Homepage Journal
    Socrates, Plato and the other early philosophers argued this one to death - sometimes quite literally. Democracy is only workable if people are not sheep but are mature, educated and thinking individuals. It will degenerate into tyranny under any and every circumstance in which those conditions cannot be met.

    Plato argued that such education is impossible - that people want to be dumb, basically - and argued the case for something more akin to a government in which only bureaucracies exist. What you're good at, you do. What you're not good at, you're told. That includes the leaders, who he argued should be good at governing but who should leave the thinking to others.

    I don't agree with that line at all, I believe that education can (and should) push people to a sufficient level of intellectual and emotional maturity where democracy ("demos" crudely meaning the masses) can function correctly without such stuff. However, I am also a pragmatist - we're not going to be able to raise Europe to that standard overnight, and America is in far worse shape when it comes to sheephood. Tyranny is totally unacceptable. Plato's concern that skilled manipulators with sharp PR can seize control is a major problem in virtually every country that even has elections. So what's left?

    The only solution I can think of that's left is to devolve some level of power out from all sections of society (the legislators, the executive, the judges, and yes the people as well) and codify it in a law that applies to all, equally, honoring no privilege or immunity, that prevents the extreme degenerate cases that happen in society and also prevents any change to that codification. And that's it. Absolutely nothing else.

    That's the critical bit. It must be nothing else, or it itself will by tyranny, and that defeats the whole point.

  • by Keith_Beef (166050) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @12:38AM (#19617173)

    No. You are wrong, on a technical point.

    Imagine that I drive along a straight, wide road, in daylight. The road surface is in good condition, is dry, and my vehicle is in excellent condition. I am in full control of my vehicle. I drive at 65 mles per hour like this for five miles or so, without endangering myself or others.

    I look in my read view mirror to see flashing blue lights. It's the cops, and I'm pulled over for exceeding the speed limit of 50mph.

    I committed a crime, plain and simple, because the law sets the limit and I exceeded it.

    That, in essence is the whole of the argument. The law (statute, common law, penal code, whatever you want to call it) sets down certain limits, and if you exceed them you have committed a crime. End of story.

    After that, you can argue 'til you're blue in the face that your crime hurt nobody, put nobody at risk, and deserves no punishment, but those are mitigating circumstances to reduce your penalty, and do not negate the crime itself.

    Beef.

  • Re:Tough cookies (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ravnen (823845) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @04:30AM (#19618169)
    I am no expert on US law, but in Brandenburg v Ohio [findlaw.com], the US Supreme Court stated:

    Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.
    It certainly looks to me like this supports the view that incitement to illegal activity is itself illegal under US law. There is a requirement of imminence, so posting on a website probably wouldn't count, but if you're standing in front of a crowd, inciting them to kill someone, or commit some other illegal act, this opinion suggests to me that you could be prosecuted for your speech.

    With respect to Europe, there are vast differences in free speech rights from one country to the next, with Germany for example being one of the more restrictive countries, for historical reasons. You can't really talk about 'Europe' as a single entity here, even if there are some common provisions, based on the ECHR, EU treaties and so on.

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