At this year’s Broadband World Forum, Anna Troberg, leader of the Pirate Party, Sweden’s swashbuckling defenders of online liberty, will be delivering a scintillating keynote concerning net neutrality, freedom, privacy and the future health of the internet– and delivering their very 21st century brand of radicalism to the heart of the telecoms and technology industry.
As I discovered interviewing Troberg earlier this week, however, she hasn’t always felt this way. Her ascent to the helm of Europe’s fastest growing political movement has echoes of the old movie where the noblewoman gets abducted by pirates—and before long finds herself captaining the ship. Back in 2008 she was an author and publisher: she only came into contact with the pirates after launching an attack on them on her blog. This sparked a discussion that led to her conversion to the cause.
I asked Troberg what swayed her…
“To begin with, I was stuck on the same question that a lot of people still have: ‘how are we people who write books going to get paid if the pirates come and steal our work?’ But I realised there were a lot of people doing things in a different way, and they are not starving and they are producing their work and selling it in different ways and they are making a living out of it. Whenever I talked to people within the publishing industry it was all doom and gloom and there were no real solutions discussed, but when I talked to the Pirate Bay they had a vision for the future and presented different solutions to these problems.”
While Troberg certainly enjoyed the contrast between the gloomy claustrophobia on publishing’s sinking ship, and the optimism rife on the pirates’ spry vessel, this wasn’t the only reason she had the change of heart…
“I also realised that, if you want to stop file sharing, then someone somewhere, a state or a private company, needs to know exactly what you send and receive on your computer. And we do everything online—we talk, and we work, and we buy things. and we date: it’s simply not okay that someone somewhere should have that insight into our private lives.”
Although Troberg is quick to correct any misconception that the Pirate Party seeks to abolish copyright law (though they do seek to reform it), on the topic of file-sharing the movement is unabashedly radical. Troberg ridicules the attempt to classify and stigmatise the practise as conventional theft.
“To make it very simple: if you have a bike and I take your bike you don’t have a bike; if you have an MP3 of a Lady Gaga song and I copy that file, then you have that file and I have that file. You cannot compare an object, a physical object, with a digital file, it’s completely different. Today the cost of copying something is basically nothing – so you can’t treat both in the same way, you have to think of them differently.”
The irony is that, in other areas, governments do make a profound distinction between the ‘real’ world and the digital one—habitually disregarding the rights of individuals when it comes to the latter. And it is precisely here, Troberg stresses, that there should be the same laws online as there is in the rest of the world.
“For some reason in Sweden as in many other countries it seems that governments want to have specific and much harsher laws for everything that happens online—and that is a problem. It also creates a problem that people accept laws online that they would never accept otherwise.”
You don’t have to think long for an example: the prospect, say, of the US Government physically riffling through your private effects would feel a great deal more unnerving than the reality of their combing through and storing our digital correspondence.
Troberg insists that the actual intersection between the issues of file-sharing and online civil liberties is significant.
“I would say these are two sides of the same thing. If you want to stop file sharing, someone somewhere needs to monitor what you send and receive, and that of course is a huge infringement of privacy. So when we’re talking about all those surveillance laws we have–the data retention directive in the EU, everything the NSA is doing in the US, and so on—that is a huge problem because suddenly we are living lives where everywhere you go, everywhere you bring your mobile phone, everything is monitored. Then you go online and there are other forms of surveillance laws that make it possible to pick up on which web pages you go to, who you email and stuff like that, and suddenly it’s very easy to map a person’s whole life. And it’s completely ludicrous that someone somewhere should be able to have this information about you. You have your right to a private life. “
As for the Broadband World Forum, what principal message does Tronberg plan to deliver to the attendees in Amsterdam.
“Don’t expect everyone to be so technically savy!” she exclaims. “You have to try to build systems that can protect individual users without the individual user being a tech nerd because most people are not. And you can’t have a society where you get a big gap between people who have great protection for their human rights online and people who have other skills and so no protection at all. We have to find another way to protect people.”
While Troberg knows she’ll be addressing an unconventional audience for the Pirate Party at the Broadband World Forum, she expects a good reception.
“I know a lot of the operators are on our side when it comes to net neutrality, so it is important to show them that they are not alone in this. Many are being bothered by governments and government agencies, and it’s very important that they stand their ground on this issue. And for the companies that will also be there, I guess, who want to be one of the little kings of the internet, it is important that they understand that this is not acceptable.”
The Broadband World Forum can’t say it hasn’t been warned – ships ahoy!