Today Feb 7, 2016, I am together with Anders Ahlqvist, Swedish Police, and Jon Karlung, CEO of the ISP Bahnhof, writing an article in Swedish on why blocking is the wrong path forward. You can find the article in Swedish here, and below a translation to English made by myself. The proposal on blocking IP addresses has more explosive power than the government realizes. Development in that direction could lead us in the direction of censorship of the Internet that prevails in countries like Turkey. Moreover, the tactic is counterproductive when it comes to law enforcement, writes Anders Ahlqvist, Swedish Police, Patrik Fältström, Netnod, and Jon Karlung, Bahnhof.
DEBATE | INTERNET
Anyone who takes out his smartphone in Turkey to go in to Twitter sometimes occasionally end up in a void. The site is out there, but the internet provider has blocked access on the orders of the government. Could something like that happen in Sweden?
Not today. The free world does not apply the statutory censorship of the internet, or as it is called in the jargon: the blocking of IP addresses. To communicate freely is not only a human right - it characterizes a prosperous and open society. Illegal content is fought today through targeted action against the actor, not the blocking of internet traffic.
But the road to hell is, as you know, bordered by both good intentions and unnoticed investigations. The government decided at the meeting of 24 September 2015 to appoint a committee, “Re-regulation of the gaming market” (Dir. 2015:95), where the investigator was commissioned to find a model for a new licensing system.
The background is of course the relationship between the state, public health and the loss of tax revenue as far as gambling outside Sweden entails. The directives for the investigation is stating that “anyone who acts in the Swedish gaming market will do it with the competent state, and actors without permission to be shut out.” It is important to think about what this means in practice.
The key words here are “… the parties without permission are to be locked out.” Or, as the investigator Håkan Hallstedt wrote in an e-mail to the Internet operator Bahnhof: “As in the last investigation about gaming in 2008, the question of IP blocking is brought up again.”
The three of us who sign this Article have different views on many IT issues, such as the current data retention directive and management of user data. The Police and Bahnhof has even had major conflicts. But this is precisely why we have chosen to join together and warn of the path that the investigation, based on the directions from the government, seems to take. First the target would be foreign gambling sites, but who knows which pages on the Internet are to be blocked the next time? There is an obvious risk that new applications are constantly proposed and that the blocking is expanded.
The fact is also that the tactic of blocking IP addresses is not only wrong in principle but often ineffective and at worst counterproductive. Many regular users learn to react in the same way as when the resistance movements in dictatorships resort to technological means to get around the digital barriers: through encryption and so-called VPN services for anonymous surfing.
Blocking sites can be compared to holding up a curtain in front of something a person does not want to know of. But the material is still there. The only way to stop the services and information is at the source, to suspend the service or remove the illegal content. This means in practice to strike at the servers where the material is.
We could otherwise get the worst of both worlds, where we opened Pandora’s box regarding blocking of the Internet while many users still can reach out to illegal material. This has also been pointed out by both the National Post and Telecom Agency in a consultation response the last time the proposal on IP blocking was up, and by the ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee in its document SAC 050. Blocking the Internet is a desktop product that does not give the desired effect.
In order to maintain its leading role as an IT nation, Sweden needs to retain the view that a free Internet is a fundamental right. The police should also get the right resources to fight crime for real, rather than to hold up a curtain in front of the information we do not want to see. Operators shall ensure that the data traffic moving - not to be the state’s gatekeepers.
We are convinced that it is possible to find effective tools that provide the ability to prosecute crimes. To actually stop illegal content we need cooperation and the ability to move information between operators and the police, and do so in an efficient, reliable and secure manner. Because the Internet is global, we also need to strengthen cooperation across borders. Here, efficiency, accuracy and type of crime investigated must always be balanced against the fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of expression.
Let us not go down the same dangerous road that Turkey and other authoritarian states have done. Do not build a digital version of the Chinese wall around Sweden!
Anders AhlqvistDetective Superintendent, National Operations Department
Jon KarlungCEO Bahnhof