Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

December 2005

Censorship15:22, December 20, 2005

The Swedish Court of Appeals decided today that a satellite dish mounted on the facade of an apartment building is un-lawful, because it can hurt somebody if it fell down on the street below. One of the defendants, Mr Adnan, will be evicted on April 1st, following the courts verdict, together with his own and two other families.

Mr Adnan need the dishes to watch television from their home countries, but apparently the freedom to access information was considered less important than the landlords wish to keep the neighborhood stylishly neat, tidy and consistent. This caused Mr Adnan – a trained architect – to construct a mobile rig so that the dish would not be a permanent mount, but this solution was also deemed to be non satisfactory by the court – although they agree that it is safe.

The verdict will be a mandatory precedent, which in practice means that landlords across Sweden can force their tenants to remove satellite dishes without any chance of appeal.

Besides being extremely discriminating – since ethic Swedes are unlikely to want any other channels than those that are being provided by the terrestrial or cable broadcasts – isn’t the individuals freedom to access information much more important than anything else. I agree that satellite dishes may not be the most beautiful things in their own right, but it is neutralized in any urban environment. And, if safety cannot be guaranteed when tenants mount the dishes themselves, why oblige the landlords to help them?

Hopefully, Mr Adnan can find another apartment soon – and get access to the channels he wants through any other mean.

Google Earth placemark to the apartment buildings in Rinkeby
More on the event from Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish)

Censorship and Free Speech00:58, December 5, 2005

I don’t want to be overly dystrophic, but these are dark days for free speech. Internet filtering is becoming increasingly common in the world, the regimes are getting better at it and the schemes harder to circumvent.

This is where Tor, an EFF supported project, comes in. It is what’s called an onion router that obscures communication by letting the data pass through several nodes in encrypted form. Using the Tor network, a user in, say, China, can access sites without ever getting caught by the government. People can blog and participate in the public sphere without leaving much trace.

Reporters sans fronti?res have a handy chapter in their publication Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, which explain the end-user benefits and the technical background using simple, pain English.

Not only people living in countries we westerners normally consider repressive, can benefit from this technology. Even in countries like my native Sweden, the police are maintaining a list of sites that ISP’s are “recommended” to block (link in Swedish). Today, the blocks are used only to fight child pornography – a noble cause indeed – but even the existence of such a system and the power of whatever outbreak of moral panic we might come across in the future is a recipe for disaster. History has numerous examples of when free speech gets threatened by short-term public opinion.

Another threat is the new data retention initiative from the European Union, already ratified in Sweden, also threatens the access to information and the right to free speech by keeping record for several years of all calls made, e-mail’s and internet sites visited.

A solution to all these problems is to hide – and hide well. To help facilitate this I set up a Tor-server today, and donate a chunk of my available bandwidth to those in need.