Currently reading (ok re-reading!):
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This book is so good I want to cry.
(Will be back with a review! Just checking in )
This book is so good I want to cry.
(Will be back with a review! Just checking in )
On October 17th, Gottfrid Svartholm – founder of the Pirate Bay and Scandinavia’s favorite hacking scapegoat – will spend his birthday behind bars… for the third time. We already know why we should still care about Anakata’s post-Pirate Bay trials, and how tech-illiterate prosecutors are a chilling side effect of the digital age. But today, how about just dropping a card in the mail to wish this free internet pioneer a Happy 30th? (You know, while we’re all waiting for TUEBL to come back so we have something to read! )
Gottfrid Svartholm Warg
Arresthuset i Koege
Kongsberg Allé 6
This post was inspired by a TorrentFreak comment thread earlier this week. But it could have been inspired by any number of interactions I’ve had over the years as an artist with a political opinion. It’s been said a hundred times, but I say it again because it keeps needing to be said:
Artists can make up their own minds on copyright.
This isn’t some new, untested theory. But you must not be an artist if you question copyright! remains an all-to-common retort in the intellectual property debates. A person who creates art can’t possibly be a pirate, so the saying goes. And a pirate (actually, forget pirate, in some circles it’s enough just to bring up copyright reform, let alone actual piracy), or a supporter of free culture can’t possibly be a creator.
Saying that artists can’t make up their own minds on the topic is dismissive in the extreme. Pretending that we are unable to hold opinions that may or may not agree with the industry perspective, or with each other, is also blatantly false. See the recent displays of opinion-having by Hollywood folks as well as the Pirates-with-a-capital-P or pirate-with-a-lowercase-p who make or made music or writing their business.
But I’m more worried about the dismissive attitude we aim at creators.
Artists have opinions. Sometimes, even their own.
The first time I ever heard of copyright reform (and it was a very tame reference to curtailing the length of IP protections) I didn’t like it. I had the negative reaction that the entertainment industries tell me I”m supposed to have. Ok, maybe not the vitriolic knee-jerk they hoped for. But I gave the idea a solid Well-thats-a-bit-extreme brush off.
Over the years, I developed my opinions on the subject in the normal ways human beings develop opinions on things. I read up, followed the news, hunted down facts, listened to others’ experiences, and paid close attention to my own budding experiences in the creative world. I was lucky enough to be allowed to pursue information in relative peace and quiet – it was the quiet before the storm in the ebook world, and afterwards it wasn’t until I had opinions that I faced the vitriol of those who I disagreed with.
My opinions are not static. They may be wrong. They may change. They may disappear, expand, reverse, or veer off into some yet-undiscovered direction. But that’s the human capacity for making decisions at work. Denying artists’ ability to come to their own conclusions is of no benefit to anyone, least of all the artists themselves. Neither is pretending that any deviation from the default industry narratives is tantamount to treason or indictment of ones’ status as an creator in the first place.
People will always find a reason to tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter.
As a newbie writer, you’re told that you’re new and naive. You don’t know how things work around here. Never mind the ten years you spent writing stories, dreaming about going pro, and googling how to get published, you just can’t understand. You might be lucky enough to pass the first level, become successful, very successful, or even just happily midlist with a platform to speak from…… but you’re too comfortable! You’ve found your creative niche, your struggle is over. You just can’t understand. And god forbid you really succeed and get to superstar status. Then you just really can’t get it. You can’t have opinions while rolling around on your bed of money. You just don’t understand.
There will always be a reason.
There will always be a reason that, no matter your level or position within the creative community, you don’t get to have an opinion – that is, if it’s not approved by your industry. There will always be a reason that – forget the facts – you just don’t get it. If you did get it, you wouldn’t dare to differ on this topic that affects you.
But artists do have opinions.
Do you think we need more ways to support musicians, writers, filmmakers, and other artists? Great! Me too, let’s talk about that. Do you think fair use, parody protections, and safe harbor policy is working? Let’s talk about that, too. How about term limits, format-shifting, paywalled torrents, and…
There’s a lot to talk about. There are even more opinions to be formed.
So let’s talk.
Because if we don’t, the lawmakers and lobbyist will do it for us. And leaving our creative work in the hands of a bunch of stuffy old rich white dudes behind closed doors is a really scary thought.
It’ll take some work.
I know – I’m not that good at it. Talking. I can be obnoxious. Confrontational. Prone to passionately unedited wall-o-text rants. My high school English teacher even put it in my college “recommendation” letters. (Not the wall of text thing. The thing about being confrontational, or something like that.) And that sucks. It’s something I need to work on. I don’t think aggression is useful unless you’re squashing spiders. Instead, I want to emulate those who argue with grace, empathy, and creativity.
So I’m extending an olive branch.
This olive branch goes out to all others creators just as capable of making their own opinions.
And know that the people you’re talking to, creators or not, are human beings with the capacity to hear you and make up their own mind. And we can both keep saying – a thousand times over, if need be, because it is worth it – that creators can have opinions – opinions, plural – on copyright and the issues that affect us. And we do.
Please sign the petition to help Peter!
This is an English version of the latest interview with Peter Sunde where DN.se journalist Hanna Fahl talked with the Pirate Bay founder about being wanted by Interpol, standing in the European Elections, debt, and goldfish. The original is in Swedish, I just tried to smooth out the translation. Please let me know of any mistakes : ) . Thanks, Google (and Tobias Andersson.)
By Hanna Fahl
Peter Sunde owes Swedish and American film and record companies 83 million dollars, and now sits imprisoned. DN’s Hanna Fahl met Pirate Bay founder in prison.
[Peter:]There’s a cocaine smuggler here, he’s probably my best friend in here. In my department, there’s one guy who killed someone with 64 knife wounds to the stomach, he has a life sentence. He is may get home leave, but I may not.
We sit in a beige prison visiting room at Västervik North. Opposite a vinyl upholstered seat, a table, instant coffee. Peter Sunde has gray tracksuit and flip flops and does not want to be photographed.
I don’t really know how I look.
I say he looks a bit skinny. He nods.
- Everyone in here thinks it’s weird that I’m here. I have the shortest sentence. I’m an odd bird. It’s odd, I’ve probably got a bit of a new view on people, the good and the evil. Everyone has a good dose of both.
Peter Sunde has been in prison for four months. Five days ago, he buried his father. Peter had to fight to get to meet him at the hospital and to get to go to the funeral. Västervik North is a two-class institution, and most people here have committed serious crimes: violence, drugs. Peter is convicted of complicity in file sharing.
I ask him how it felt when he was arrested in May. It has been four years since the Court of Appeal’s judgment fell in the Pirate Bay trial – he never showed up at prison.
- I wanted to meet my father, it was serious with my dad. It was the only thing I was thinking then. It’s hard to explain how it felt. A little unfair. But also good to be finished with it, it might get a little easier afterwards. How would you have felt if it was you?
I could not manage waiting. I’d probably just serve the sentence immediately.
- I do not think it’s my job to help take a penalty that is not fair. Had I known that my father would pass away, it would have been different, but on the other hand, I had time to hang out a lot with my dad before. That was fucking shitty timing, but I probably would not have done things differently if I got back in time. I have retained my sense of self in this. It is also important.
The history of the Pirate Bay, the one that concludes in Peter Sunde now sitting in Västervik and moving listlessly a cup bleached coffee, began in 2003, when the file sharing service, that was to become the world’s largest and change millions of people’s attitude to music and movies online, was born.
Originally the Pirate Bay consisted of a few computers on a server at Godfrey Svartholm Warg’s job, but the service grew rapidly. Fredrik Neij got involved, and Peter Sunde began to help with the programming. Soon, he also became a spokesperson for The Pirate Bay. He was the most verbal of the three, the most politically interested.
The Pirate Bay was not the first file-sharing service, and not the first that ended up in legal disputes. A few years earlier, both Napster and Kazaa were sued by the American music industry and had to pay damages. But the Pirate Bay was different. From the outset, it’s teasing had both the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau and the American movie and music industry up in arms. When letters from Hollywood Lawyers came in, The Pirate Bay responded by posting them on the site, along with mocking response.
One reason that Sunde and the other ignored the lawsuit threat was that they actually had pretty good reason to believe that what they did was legal. Pirate Bay never had any copyrighted material on its servers. Some felt that the site was rather to be compared with a search engine like Google. In 2005, the public prosecutor examined if he could prosecute the Pirate Bay, and in November of that year he came to the conclusion that they are not guilty of crimes themselves and that it would also be difficult to hold them accountable for complicity in crime.
But that changed quickly. On 31 May 2006 the police executed a search warrant and seized the Pirate Bay’s servers. Sunde, Svartholm Warg and Neij were indicted along with Carl Lundström. Shortly after the raid a Report went out with information that the Swedish judicial system itself had not taken the initiative in the raid, but that the Justice Department was pushed to strike for the American government and film industry organizations.
It was a controversial and acclaimed trial. The District Court sentenced the four defendants to one year in prison each and damages of 30 million kronor. In the Court of Appeal, they were given shortened prison sentences, Peter got eight months. But the damages were increased to 46 million.
After the verdict, Peter Sunde sought appeal in the Supreme Court but was refused. In 2012, he applied for pardon with the government but was denied. Eventually, he was wanted by Interpol. The past four years he has not had a permanent home, but moved around: the Nordic countries, Germany, Poland.
But he has not been idle. He has launched new projects Flattr, a service for micro-donations to creators and other projects online. Hemlis is another, an encrypted app to send direct messages that no one can eavesdrop on. He has lectured and given interviews. He gives a confident, bordering on flippant, impression. He has been described as strong and unshakable, never sad.
Now, Peter Sunde is sad.. Or, not quite in a great mood at the moment, as he puts it in a letter in August. I have written to him in Västervik Northern and asked for an interview, and the answer that comes a week later is far. It was a little too frank, [the] letter here, I see! Though that’s the way I am.
He writes that his father is in the hospital in Skövde. The father is very ill, he has been diagnosed with lung cancer in his one remaining lung, and just been forced to amputate his leg after blood clot. Peter gets no parole, he has been told the first day at the prison. You get no parole, nor may you change institutions or get the sentence commuted to tagging [monitoring by electronic ankle bracelet]. They want to appear tough on me – they themselves say explicitly that it is about their fear of being seen as not tough enough, writes Peter.
It is a slow communication. Letters come on paper in gray print that testify to an ink cartridge about to end. The visit take time to arrange, up to six weeks.
A few months earlier, Peter Sunde wrote an opinion piece in the Times about Swedish prisons, from inside the prison. There, he describes how the inmates must wait for emergency dental treatment, how they do not have jobs, how he lost weight drastically because he does not get enough vegan food. “In the evening you get to pee in a plastic bottle. If we need to do number two, we must call a guard who unlocks us as time permits. The advice they give is to take an extra bag to the trash. “
During his first four months in prison Peter Sunde made five JO[justitieombudsman, Parliamentary Ombudsman?] complaints against Northern Västervik. If the letters are examined but that he will be notified if their diet, if they frequent urine tests, if he has not got to call his lawyer and police.
The father becomes ill during the late summer. Eventually, Peter is granted special permission for two visits to the hospital in Skövde where he gets two and a half hours with his father. In late August, his father dies.
It has been hard and it’s even harder because you’re stuck inside, can not support (or be supported by) the family that is left behind, writes Peter in early September. He applies for special leave again, and learns that he must choose: either say goodbye to his father at the hospital where he died, or go to the funeral. He chooses the funeral, but learns that he must have handcuffs and a stomach chain and will not be able to be with or carry his father’s coffin. The anger I have right now is so much nicer to have than just grief.
On the outside is Peter Sunde big brother, author Mats Kolmisoppi. They talk on the phone every day. Peter has actively avoided using his second surname Kolmisoppi so his brother will not have to be associated with him.
A few days before his father’s funeral, Mats speaks out and write a long text about Peter’s situation that he put out on Facebook. “The Prison may not issue further punishment than the one already imposed in the courtroom. But it is difficult to draw conclusions other than that Peter’s case involves pure punishment.“ Peter begins to cry when he gets the text read over the phone by Mats.
A week later, here we are, in the visiting room on vinyl chairs. The funeral went well in the end, says Peter. He did not have handcuffs. Perhaps partly because of the attention surrounding the situation; several newspapers have reported on Mats Facebook posts. The staff at the institution brings in lunch: spaghetti with peas.
- They suck up to you. Last time I had visits only three peas in spaghetti, said Peter, pointing to the plastic box.
It’s hard to understand why it took so long before he was arrested. In recent years, he has lectured, been on TV, riding through several police checkpoints.
- They probably have not made much of an effort. When I found out that I was wanted by Interpol, I was even a little sour. I do not think people who are criminals really should get away so easily, I was annoyed at how simple it was. It was a strange feeling.
Quite a few would say that you are a criminal for real.
- It’s probably not that many. Have you met many?
I’ll get e-mails from readers who are wondering why I am writing about a criminal. There is an Ubuntu thread about you and the prison, where it’s probably fifty-fifty.
- There it is just a bunch Sweden Democrats, who have liked what I have done, but then discovered that I am a socialist and hate me for it.
The trio behind the Pirate Bay was a sprawling gang. They had their private reasons for and objectives in the file-sharing service, which did not always overlapp. In 2007, the Pirate Bay gathered donations to buy micro nation, Sealand, and when the plan was thwarted, there was a split on what they would do with the money. Svartholm Warg wanted to buy equipment, Neij wanted them to take out of wages. Peter Sunde got tired of the quarrel, and one evening when he was drinking beer he bought rainforest on the computer for all the money.
In the documentary “TPB AFK”, recorded around the trials, two scenes are cross-cut: Fredrik Neij in a hangout, and Peter Sunde who is at an anti-racist demonstration in Sergel Square. Neij talking about Peter Sunde:
- Brokep is a fucking vegetarian left twisted bitch ass bastard. He does it because of some ideological pussy-inflicted instincts.
Peter Sunde counters:
- He is one alcoholic racist asshole.
Today Peter says to the other two have “vile opinions.” He has no contact with Fredrik Neij, but sometimes talks with Godfrey Svartholm Warg’s mother. Godfrey is currently detained in Denmark on suspicion of another crime.
- I want to support him even though I do not like what he stands for. He is also poorly treated. It’s like having a cousin you know you belong with but hate.
Did the internet make you into a socialist, or did you incorporate the internet in your politics?
- When I was little, I thought that all my brother did was boring: writing poetry, keeping up with politics … But the older I got, the more I began to see the patterns. Mom was a single parent with two children, many of the problems we had was that she was a woman and not visible in the community. She was treated unfairly. I saw the broken rules on social assistance. I saw many who suffered. In the end, I understood how it should be, and that there is a political vision. I did not put words to it until pretty late, at age 25.
This spring, Peter Sunde ran in European elections for the Finnish Pirate Party but was not elected.
- The file sharing issue got a lot of attention for its impact on people’s lives. But everyone who works with Internet freedom issues has understood the need for higher-up EU policy. And there, it is unfortunately really boring.
Was file sharing overshadowed by all other Internet policy issues?
- Attention was unnecessary, absolutely. But it still went over in FRA and ACTA debates. And the fundamental questions remain. We need a discussion about who should control the Internet. It should be obvious that it’s citizens, not companies.
But nobody cares after all. These questions were completely absent in the election campaign.
- I thought the Snowden revelations would get more attention, but everyone thinks “no, it does not affect me.” It’s too fuzzy, too far away. The Pirate Party goes over well in Germany because of their Stasi in recent memory, they know about surveillance. In other countries, it is difficult to get attention for the issue.
A week earlier, I called lawyer Peter Althin. He represented Peter Sunde during the Pirate Bay trial. Ideologically and privately, they are miles apart – Althin is over seventy years old, has been a Christian Democrat member of Parliament and has served on the party executive. Additionally, he has been a member of the Prison Service’s advisory council and staff welfare committee. When he undertook the mission to defend Peter, he had no knowledge of file sharing.
- But I learned quickly. He is a teacher, Peter, says Peter Althin.
Peter Althin and his legal counsel have been in close contact with Peter Sunde since he was arrested. Althin is audibly upset when he talks about Sunde’s time in Västervik Institution.
- He was treated in a manner that not even really proven thugs are treated in prison.
- Well, I have also thought about that. It may be that he is very persistent, demanding their rights and is perceived as bothersome, it can be they not with the institutions. It may also depend on the op-ed piece he wrote about the penitentiary in the spring, it may have angered them. A very good article, by the way, says Peter Althin.
Althin describes Peter Sunde as talented – perhaps too talented for his own good.
In the visiting room at Västervik North Peter Sunde points out through the barred window. A guard patrols along the fence. Out there, Peter and the other inmates have a one-hour outdoor stay per day, though in practice it is only fifty minutes, which violates the law. As a protest usually Peter stands and refuses to go in until the hour is over.
It is tempting to compare his situation with other file sharing pioneers. Swede Niklas Zennstrom, who founded Kazaa, went on to create Skype and then sell the company for 55 billion. He has been named one of the world’s most influential people by Time Magazine and received last year HM The King’s Medal. Sean Parker, who co-founded the file-sharing service Napster, became president of Facebook and is now a billionaire.
They were more strategically smart – or entrepreneurially presented, if you will – than the Pirate Bay crew. They left or sold their businesses in time, made up amicably when the music industry filed lawsuits, went further. The Pirate Bay refused to fold. And Peter Sunde is in prison instead of being rich.
- We had different purposes. Niklas Zennstrom founded Kazaa and Skype to make money. I wanted to achieve a political goal. Making money is a necessary evil for me. I would never pay a tension to the music industry. They do not deserve it. I had been feeling bad about it, says Peter Sunde.
- I get angry every time someone calls me an entrepreneur. I hate that word. Society is so focused on capital.
He puts his legs up on a chair in the visiting room, takes a bite of an apple and tells about how he once farted on a correctional employee during a particularly intimate and unnecessary search. He is difficult to grasp; half hyper intelligent idealist and half defiantly obstructionist. The JO notifications that Peter Sunde has made, point to real and serious problems within the prison, and the JO have gathered opinions from prison in at least one case. But he has also filed appeals for permission to exercise “Kopimism”, a satirical pirate religion whose dogma is copying and dissemination of information, and plans to ask people to send him money in the form of crown coins to create paperwork for office (“I call it an analog DDoS attack “).
- And then I run a process [request?] for a fellow prisoner that I usually play ping-pong with, that he will get to have a pet goldfish in the cell.
But you, now you’re just trolling the Prison.
- Haha, yes. But some intellectual stimulation I had to get.
There are so many times throughout this story which you [were better served?] not to be so tough. From the very beginning, with the Pirate Bay, until now.
- You know, the guy in the Monty Python film? They cut off the bone – he continues to be bothersome. They cut one arm, then the head, he just continues. I feel a bit like that. But there is a joy in being tough on people who deserve it. I do not care so much about what happens to me as long as I feel I have done right by myself and others.
There is a certain amount of rättshaverism [pejorative, obsession with rights] in what you do.
- I’d rather say arrogance. Idiocy, maybe. But you are not the first to use that word. And I do not always [think it’s] a problem, either. It’s what you learn: You meet people in the same situation as the man himself, who was previously perceived as rättshaverister, and you will realize that they are right.
You seem so obrydd [unconcerned, untroubled]…
- I’m right obrydd. I, like many others, has had a rough upbringing. Things have been much worse than they are now. I’m here … maybe there’s something positive in the end. I have given a Correctional boot, maybe I can talk in the media about it. Everything is not dark all the time.
At the same time… you sounded quite depressed in the letters you typed.
- Much of it is not because of how I feel, but how others feel on the outside. It was really hard when my dad got sick and my brother had to take care of everything, taking care of the whole funeral. It is the powerlessness. But I have moved more and more to being pissed. It is a more natural state for me, says Peter Sunde.
Just over a decade after sharing the explosion, it is still hard to say exactly how it affected the film and music industry financially. Studies contradict each other. Last year, one report stated that illegal downloading leads to increased legal sales – and one that the pirates are downloading to avoid paying. The major labels crisis is at least over; streaming services like Spotify have turned the curve. As far as the film industry, it is also difficult to measure the economic losses. A study last year found that Hollywood, despite complaints over file-sharing, set sales records in 2012. On the other hand, this summer has been the worst in eight years.
Peter Sunde will be released from prison in early November. But the damages remain. It is imposed jointly between the four offenders, which means that the bailiff takes the money where it is. The 46 million kronor has grown with interest and fees, and now runs at 83,541,547 crowns.
Peter Althin maintains that the judgment was erroneous.
- There is no doubt that Peter Sunde was favorable to file sharing, but he did not meet the criteria of the indictment. I thought it was crazy that he would be sentenced to a large compensation.
Peter Sunde still has plenty of fans. He gets hundreds of letters a week in prison. On twitter, daily tweets are posted under the hashtag #freebrokep. Interview requests and invitations to lecture at conferences around the world continue to come in. Flattr and Hemlis have received much media attention – certainly in part due to his status as the Internet and file sharing rebel movement’s martyr.
But in some sense, his life is ruined. Whether any of the four doomed earned money on Pirate Bay is hard to determine – they claim that they barely broke even, but the prosecutor said that they had a turnover of 19.5 million a year. True, at least the bailiff only managed to recover a fraction of tort liability. From Peter Sunde have been meted total 87,385 crowns. Some 83 million has yet to be located, and probably never will be. In practice, this means that he can not earn or own more than subsistence level in Sweden.
- The bailiff visited when I had been arrested and revealed liabilities. One was at 740 crowns to the Crime Victim Fund. When I get out of here I’ll ask my mom about some money to pay just that said Peter Sunde.
I know you say you do not care about money. But the debt is still a life sentence.
- Purely ethically, I’m very against the damages. It’s a lot worse judgment than the prison sentence, given how society looks. But it is also so toothless! None of us who were sentenced resides in Sweden. I have a regular bank account in Germany, the bailiff can not collect damage debts abroad. And in a way, it prevents me from being too interested in making money. It’s a relief.
Does the debt bind you to your ideals?
- In some ways, it does. But I had not so much money before either. The difference between having 80 000 and 80 million in debt is quite minimal in everyday life, except that in the one case, you have the hope of being able to rip up [lose? pay back?] the money. In the second case, you have not. You can enjoy life.
Enforcement has measured out 87 000 SEK from you, including from pension funds.
- Have they taken the retirement money? So I will not get a pension? Exciting. I hope they underestimated them.
A knock comes on the door. We have sat in the visiting room for seven hours. Peter has seven weeks left. He asks me to send a couple of copies of the newspaper when the interview is published; the other inmates want to read.
Will you keep in touch with any of them?
- A couple. Others, I would be terrified if I met them outside.
I ask him how he thinks it will go with fellow prisoner’s goldfish.
- We’ll see. I think we’re up for seventeen submissions now. We will try with a different species of fish as well, to see if the fish is racist.
Please sign the petition to help Peter!
On September 15 shortly after his father’s death, Mats Kolmisoppi, brother of Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, made a rare statement about his brother’s imprisonment and the effect on their family. The original is in Swedish, but even through the clunky filter of Google Translate, the moving, heartbreaking commentary shines through.
This is a crucial perspective, a condemnation of a system of “justice” which many of us believe to be superior, aspirational, even close to perfect. I share it here – roughly translated as it is – because these are words the English-speaking world needs to hear.
Please help to correct any mistakes or gaps where mechanical translations just cannot capture the Swedish words.
Although international outrage has stopped some of the threats, it is more important than ever that we remember these abuses. Peter is now back in Västervik, under the same authorities that made these threats. And others, even as famous as he, have suffered the affront he avoided:
— Kristina Svartholm (@KSvartholm) September 19, 2014
The Swedish authorities may have spared Brokep the same treatment because it was bad PR. No doubt they hoped a show of mercy would mollify the anger at the abuses within the walls of Västervik and elsewhere in the so-called “perfect” prison system. But PR is no substitute for humanity. Read, and keep fighting.
I have deliberately said very little about what happened to my brother, Peter Sunde, the last few months. Partly because he can speak for himself and not have difficulty being heard, even though he sits in a prison with a high-security rating in Västervik. But the few times prisoners talk about their own plight in prison, [they are] listened to notoriously rarely, and what has happened in recent weeks has had such large consequences in my life that, I have to say at least something.
A few decades ago, there was a consensus in regards to the second part of the word “kriminalvård” [correctional system]. That was the thrust of the treatment, at least in the political discussions. What we then favored [was] not for society to break [one] down. Instead, reducing crime required that the inmate was offered help and support to get out of his criminality. The reality was certainly less idealistic, prisons had major flaws as well. But the deficiencies have become larger by a tightening of the penalties associated with creative interpretations of the rules by the ruling [authorities] in prisons.
Peter sits thus, since May, locked in Västervik [prison]. A class 2-institution that aspires to be as high security as the more famous Class 1 institutions, Kumla and Hall. It is also the institution most frequently criticized by the Ombudsman in recent years. Why he is right there is unclear. But already a few days before the verdict against The Pirate Bay fell, he had been assigned place at the institution. As a public figure, he has ended up in a department with prisoners who are either high-profile or in need of peace and separation from the rest of the inmates. Normally, people generally [??] to the division itself, because it involves a minimum of activity to be there. Peter has not, however, been given any choice, and he will not be able to go elsewhere either.
When he arrived at the office of the security department, they did a compulsory rating of him, the result was unsurprisingly a non-existent risk of either violence or escape attempts. The other prisoners do not understand why he is there, several of the guards shake their heads and say the same thing. At most, he will be in an open prison, in view of the judgment which took legal effect.
In similar cases, it would have been obvious with electronic tagging [being released with an ankle bracelet(?)] But for the murky reasons, the prison decided to do just the opposite.
Even when he is [applying] for permission for the first time, the head of the department [came] into his room with a smile on his face and says, “I have good news for you Peter, your application is rejected.” Further, he makes it clear that Peter should not hope for any leave time. Nor to be transferred to another institution. And hopes of electronic tagging, he should beat [them] out of his mind.
We talk to each other on the phone every day. I hear him talk about collective punishment in the form of mandatory urine testing as a deterrent, even though the General Counsel of the penitentiary, [in response to] to a written question from Peter, points out that urine tests can only be carried out on individual assessments. The guards follow orders, they say. Peter “does not understand how it works,” at the institution. Even when he is presenting the statute book, pointing to sections or criminal law [precedent?], they shrug their shoulders, they follow orders.
They do as they’re told.
That is why, when a prisoner goes into the bathroom they can wait outside. That is why, when he comes out of the toilet they can say, “Now is the time for the urine test,” and then bring him to a bare room, where he must undress all clothes and pee before the two guards. Have you already peed? Tough luck. Then you wait until you can do it again.
It happens [with] more things. Things that can not be verified because the insight into the correctional system is missing. I hear about people going to the dentist, the one that gave the lowest bid in public procurement. How many of the inmates come back in worse shape than when they went there. The dentist pulled the wrong teeth, it’s splinters left in the gums.
The guards shrug. It is not their responsibility to make sure that the man – who, in addition to his being denied painkillers, also bleed down all their sheets – have access to emergency dental care. Although the law says that emergency dental treatment should be administered urgently. Not in six days. Not in a week and a half. It must be taken up by those who decide, with the authorities.
The guards are just doing their job. They do as they’re told.
I hear how the institution has set a system that begins to unlock the doors at seven in the morning and locks up the inmates from a quarter to seven in the evening. This means that all are locked up longer than the twelve hours per day permitted by law.
The guards must not [work] overtime. They just follow the institution’s regulations.
“You do not understand how it works here.”
Anyone who points out that they are breaking the law is a rättshaverist [“pejorative term for somebody who insist the rule of law be followed, even when it’s inconvenient for bureaucrats to do so” – Thanks, Rick Falkvinge!]
You are expected to understand that, for practical reasons, it is not working as it is said that it should work.
Therefore, the hours outdoors you are entitled to equals fifty minutes a day.
Therefore, he may eat mashed potatoes served with boiled potatoes. And hopefully the kitchen has put aside some extra fruit, because he is a vegan. They claim that he is served nutritious and good food. Despite that, he has lost thirteen kilograms. He has been given by the doctor notes several deficiencies. Among other things, he has received iron and vitamin B12 deficiency. The only problem is that the doctor may not write certificates anymore. It was basically as complicated when he did.
Therefore, there is not a failure of the food.
I hear how they handle criticism from the Ombudsman. How those [ögontjänare] change the routines a tad until the storm blowns over. What should they do? JO [justitieombudsman, Parliamentary Ombudsman?] still has no muscle to put behind their criticism. There is no regulatory authority.
Therefore, the letters continue to be read by security staff thought it is clear that the item has been checked by the required stamps institution shall use, especially when they happen to come from people whose names the mail room staff recognize.
“You do not understand how it works here,” they say.
Then he is refused release [in his] next application, then the next. There is no logic, no reason for refusal. The rules require permission is also given to those who have a high escape probability.
Indeed, it has to do with that care again, that even prisoners should have the opportunity to meet with family and friends, it [handar on] their psychosocial health. But now that the regular boss has gone on holiday, it seems to go easier. The deputy chief says it will be arranged. There are, as we know, no danger that Peter will escape. No other prisoner has such a low flight risk as he.
Not least given that his father is ill.
Not least because the punishment is relatively short.
Not least given that his father is ill.
Prison authorities think differently.
They reason as follows: there is certainly no escape risk. But if he escapes. Then it would lead to a media disaster. Therefore, it is in their refusal that there is – not just a great – but a likely escape risk.
That’s how it works at the institution.
Can you verify that what I say is true? It is doubtful, there is no transparency.
No chance to really examine what is happening in a Swedish security-rated institution. But there are witnesses. And there are lawyers. And there are opportunities to never let go or give up the fight against a system that is so obviously devoted to breaking down rather than building people up. But prospects are small. Västervik has previously been criticized by the Ombudsman to change the data, delete notes, do not let the inmates receive copies of decisions. They pull themselves hardly to deny if anyone would get the idea to review them.
Not at all, responds the institution, we follow the rules. We offer several programs for the inmates. We offer training, for example!
He borrowed the “Spanish for Beginners.”
He has now in his room.
Time passes and our father becomes ill. Peter is worried about what happens. My father is old and has severe pain in his leg. After lung cancer twenty years ago, he has only one lung left. He has heart surgery and hip [surgery]. And just this summer, his weight has plummeted.
Why does Peter do not leave?
For their revenge on him.
It’s the only plausible explanation.
I say it again: there is no reason, nothing prevents Peter’s release. But it has the prestige of it all. He wins a small impact, for us who are on the outside, small things. JO does not put down his filings. The mailroom is forced to change their routines. The inmates refused to go into the yard before it’s gone for an hour. He helps the other with documents and appeals. He pushes that the department should have their own copy of the laws available. He submits appeals and applications. They annoyed him. They say, “it’s an opportunity to leave,” but that’s not true. By law, [these are] prisoners’ rights. Rights that can not be seen as rewards for servile behavior, but that is how they are used.
Those who demand their rights are punished.
“Good news! Your application is dismissed! “
Dad gets worse and ends up in the hospital. It is the foot, it is atherosclerosis, it is the herniated disc, it is the lung, it’s weight collapse, it’s the pain and the suspected cancer. The summer of 2014 should go down in history as one of the worst in the history of KSS. The hospital is understaffed. Nurses speak out in the media about how they are crying because they can not keep up. There is insufficient space. And dad moved between several departments. Peter tries as best he can. He applies for permission again and again. And lo and behold, in the end the application almost goes through …
The situation is serious, but Peter gets no ordinary leave. Two guards accompany [him] instead. The trip from the town of Skövde is long. He will therefore only see my dad three hours. But sure. It’s always something. He must at least meet his sick father.
But they still refuse to give him a regular leave.
The guards provided are friendly. They understand, everybody understands, who would not? – That there is absolutely no escape risk. Dad is sick. He wants to see his son. Peter wants to meet his father. And he gets to meet his father. This time and again.
How do you judge a prisoner’s escape probability? How do you make a risk analysis? The release system is designed in such a way that a successful release leads to new opportunities. Six hours will eventually lead to twenty-four hours. Anyone who may leave is also entitled to apply to be transferred to another institution and increase the chances of electronic tagging. Those who have not received release have very little opportunity for either, although in frivårdens the rules alone are that the inmate “should” have had leave that tagging should be mentioned. A guarded special release is not counted in the system as a release.
Thus it is like he has never been outside the prison walls. He got to meet my dad. He has traveled with guards. He has managed. He has been exemplary. But he can not leave. There is no new evidence to judge whether he should be released. Despite the occasional boss, now in talks with the lawyer, saying that there are not any barriers for Peter to get it. But a few days later, the boss is unavailable.
Peter would most likely run away, according to the decision.
Probation may not issue further punishment than the one already imposed in the courtroom. But it is difficult to draw conclusions other than that Peter’s case involves pure punishment in combination with anxiety and cowardice. If he escapes. Then. Then it becomes a media hell for the institution criticized the most times by the JO. Peter tells us that they have barbed wire fence with razor blades. They pay large sums each year for this in liquidated damages. The call it the “dispensation”.
Institution say they put safety first.
They feel they need razor blades and break the rules and pay the fine every year. They need to have razor blades. Otherwise accommodate people. [???] The proof of the razor blades’ efficiency? The relatively low number of escapes. But it happens so clearly that people can hold anyway. On leave, for instance. Of course it happens. [???]
Dad’s illness worsens. Summer continues out there on the Billing slope. Sweden’s oldest TV tower continues to send out signals, as well as Sweden’s tallest TV tower near Västervik Institution. But soon the summer will end. And after the holiday, the regular boss will return. There had recently been an improvement. Peter was about to get the ankel bracelet (for electronic monitoring), to get release, be granted transfer. But with the approaching autumn returns the strict arrangement.
Permission is, of course, not on the radar.
Peter will stay where he is.
Systemic reasons is nothing to verify. It is difficult to gain insight into the penitentiary. It is a closed community within a community, without regulatory authority, with the classification [classified information?] at the time.
Therefore, everything I write is fiction. Nothing is true. Nothing is real.
Therefore, I deal with the fictitious plitarna och påvarna [??screws and popes??] as I want. They are nothing but literary constructions. This particular småpåven trying to become a security officer over the prison. But also the other småpåven roars from time to time. [He] turns red in the face and calls inmates things that no one should be called. In prison, the system is designed so that the only ones expected to speak calmly and rationally are the inmates. There are urine tests, isolation cells, deprivation of privileges, sudden searches and other interrogations.
An employee need not worry. There’s no transparency.
Therefore, there is no truth. Therefore, all is hearsay, delusions and libel.
Everybody knows that it doesn’t happen like this. There is no conspiracy. Why would they be interested in messing with him? It goes without saying. It falls on its face. And he deserves, right? He is doomed. It’ll be difficult and tedious to sit in jail. It is society’s sullied reputation. He’ll surely sit there? Ashamed of what he convicted of? Take his sentence. Sitting still in the boat. And there is certainly pity for the employees. They only have a few days of training. It is a harsh environment. They serve the poor. And they just do as they’re told.
“You do not understand how it works here.”
“But you are breaking the law.”
“You do not understand. It would be much easier for you, if you did not mouth off so much. “
One fitting illustration. (Though fiction, because nothing can be verified.) Say that in the case of a prison in Alaska or Siberia. This makes it easier: This tundra institution paid for all medicines out of the prison, which may not take any subsidies. A heart medication costs as much as a heart medication costs. The drugs as well. It is a burden on the institution, which does his best to hold down the cost. When a heavily medicated and psychologically sick man comes to the doctor, the latter two issues that respond to: How do you ensure that people do not hurt themselves and how do you ensure that the economy is not strained?
The solution is as simple as it is ingenious: Take away all the drugs, much of which is for anxiety, and ensure that the inmate ends up in solitary confinement with monitoring a week or two.
And what happens to the heart-sick
who are deprived of their expensive medicines
in this fiction
He dies, of course.
Also it will be cheaper in the long run.
My father came to Sweden in the 60s. He was one of those Finns that looked for work and quickly found it. The story has been told many times and is now a major part of the national self-understanding: Dad and his friends arrived in Stockholm on Saturday. On Monday morning, they worked at Volvo in Skövde.
Now he was on KSS. This is where it began, he said, then we called the nurses to ask how it was going with the samples and medicine. He had worked at the hospital construction site for a few weeks almost fifty years ago, but now we pointed out the faults in the room. What a fucking cheating construction. The wheel had come loose from the folding screen. The painting was hanging crooked on the wall. Small annoying things. Professional pride, sure, but also a way to talk about other things. About the angles and distances. And nothing did it cost the country that he moved to.
It was a pure profit business to society, until he became ill.
All these constructions which he pointed out as we drove down the highway.
That was me that build [it].
It was when we were working at the airport.
Then said [of the] base.
“But is it really safe that he is sick? It may well be that you’re just saying that he is sick? Now you’ve also got two guarded paroles. You should be grateful for the leave of absence that you have already received. “
Suspected cancer in the remaining lung. Non-existent blood circulation in the leg that was black and had to be amputated. Gasbrandsbakterier (infection) took hold in the wound. Within six hours they had spread so high that a new emergency amputation must be carried out, this time they took as much as they could of the leg. Suspected metastases, difficult to control because he only had one lung. The wound did not heal. Possibly also need the hip prosthesis removed, but then at Sahlgrenska (hospital).
Though there was probably no real alternative.
Peter ought to be grateful. He has received two brief, guarded paroles. Escape risk is significant. The media disaster. There is no evidence that the former chief has said that the risk of escape is nonexistent. He would never admit it if he was asked. But the guards have heard it. The inmates have heard it.
All decisions may be appealed to the person who made the decision, who then makes a new decision, which can then be appealed to the Administrative Court for an opinion procedure involving submission of action after action after action. Then the administrative court Institution line. So it looks. A How It Works exercise of authority in the penitentiary.
And since the election, when dad passes away:
Want to say goodbye now or at the funeral?
And he chooses the funeral. We want to say goodbye to our father together. We have determined that our father will be buried in Sweden. He lived here. He created a new life here. This was where he belonged. And certainly it is possible to arrange a special release. Peter chooses to go to the funeral.
But something happens in the weeks go by.
Someone escapes from prison. Someone running away from the guards. And security must be increased. The regular boss is keen on safety. Safety is the first priority There’s nothing more important than safety in a Swedish prison that aspires to a higher security classification. They want to be sure of safety. That means a new deal.
As the Swedish krimnalvården is designed, it punishes not only my brother. It punishes me, it punishes my now dead father, the punishing my mother, my family, my relatives and my friends. It has absolutely no resemblance to vård (care). Instead, it makes people sick. It makes inmates apathetic. It institutionalizes. In its secret and invisible heart, guards work even though they know that they are breaking the laws and regulations, they refer to their bosses, they follow orders, they are afraid to speak up. Some enjoy even the little power they managed to usurp inside the walls. All criticism, even that which comes from JO, runs off them like water off a greasy goose. They pride themselves on safety. They are extremely proud of their safety.
But I have trouble seeing how security is eliminated if they let my brother go to the funeral without guards.
They say now that my brother would escape if he just comes accompanied by two guards. And all risk must be eliminated. The best course, had been to deny him altogether. To say that it is unfortunately not possible. You will not leave. But they are not inhuman. The name is still kriminalvården (care). So he may come. With two guards from the security department. Wearing handcuffs.
“But I will carry my father’s coffin.”
“You can not count on it. You must be handcuffed.”
And the chains around the stomach.
So looking at the security culture of Västervik Institution. So kriminalvårdar to people in this country. Or: How to create distrust in the system.
So the state produces hate.”
An update from Mats after his father’s funeral:
Many thanks for all the support and attention for my brother and my family’s situation. Yesterday we buried our father. A nice and quiet affair. Peter was able to carry the coffin and attend the memorial service without handcuffs. The guards were respectful and kept to the background.
That does not change the fact that he spent the last week living with the threat that both magfängsel (stomach chains?) and handcuffs could be put to use. But we are thankful that he did not have to endure such humiliation. Maybe he did not have to because of all the attention surrounding the case that you helped to create. Me, my brother and my family are deeply grateful. All heat (warmth?) to you.
My hope is that the spotlight is now not turned away from the Swedish prison service. Peter is still locked up in Västervik Institution. The abuses are great, there as in other institutions, and transparency is minimal. Few inmates have the opportunity to make their voices heard in public. The few times they do, they nevertheless are refused to be heard all too easily by the prison service managers, as well as by a public that demands tougher punishment. I hope for change, that institutions should be required to answer, that a regulator with real powers to change the system is set up. At that transparency will increase.
So I’m getting caught up in the curious case of Gottfrid Svartholm – we all know him as one of the heroes of the Pirate Bay, but he’s currently facing some more serious charges involving hacking & Denmark. Getting the details is challenging if you don’t speak Danish, but word is trickling out through the English world (and hey, here’s me doing my part!) Torrent Freak has the latest highlights, and for a case that’s taken some, bizarre turns, they don’t disappoint – there’s plenty to be outraged, amused, and honestly baffled by. But it’s one point, a (hopefully) small and incidental point, that’s caught my eye: the prosecution’s use of tweets in the courtroom.
On Friday, the Danish prosecutor tried to discredit witness Jacob Appelbaum. Although he is one of the top security experts in the world and was called in for a similar case in Sweden, the prosecution argued against his reliability because he was, they accused, a friend of Gottfrid’s.
The problem? The accusation was false and based on a totally misinterpreted tweet:
“[The Prosecutor] showed a picture of Appelbaum’s Twitter profile, where Appelbaum retweeted an article from TorrentFreak written by Warg’s friend Niklas Femerstrand.
The article is titled “Sweden has kidnapped my friend Anakata” and refers to the arrest of Warg in Cambodia.
“Here writes Appelbaum… he is your friend,” [the prosecutor] said.”
The lawyer is referring to a well-known article written by Niklas Femerstrand about Anakata being weirdly and suddenly spirited away from his home in Cambodia. Jacob Appelbaum, @ioerror on Twitter, apparently retweeted the link (along with probably hundreds of others), and the prosecution took this as a statement of Appelbaum’s friendship and therefore a strike against his witness testimony. As many in the courtroom realized, the prosecutor’s interpretation is hilariously wrong.
@moltke Re-tweets aren't endorsements? Do we really need to say that? Talk about a culture clash.
— Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror) September 5, 2014
So is this just a stupid mistake? Is it really a scandal that a busy lawyer misread, or misinterpreted a tweet? The prosecutor’s intentions at least were not totally wrong-headed: someone’s BFF is not exactly an unbiased witness. Plus, it’s this guy’s job to question an expert who could destabilize their entire case, like exactly what happened in Sweden.
But though the bumbling lawyer in the courtroom is funny, the implications are concerning.
Reading this and the ensuing buzz on Twitter, I was reminded of an article by Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, from a few years ago warning about what might happen if everything anyone said ever could be used anytime & forever in a court or by anyone ever. The warning was in reference to protecting anonymity and it had nothing to do with tweets, retweets, or hacking in Denmark. But in light of the latest news from court, his warning – of a world in where anyone’s comments anywhere ever could be used, legally, anywhere ever and with dire consequences – is ringing pretty true right about now:
“It would become practically impossible to say… anything remotely challenging,” he says. “At least if you wanted a future.”
The article sums up the chilling effects of taking every shred of people’s speech and using it against them, which is of course a valid concern in and of itself. But the one thing Falkvinge missed is that it’s not just “Anything you say can & will be used against you by anyone ever”, it’s “Anything you say can & will be used against you or anyone else by anyone ever in cases you have nothing to do with, and in which your words are misinterpreted or deliberately mangled.”
The idea that anyone, anywhere could tweet, retweet, or link to something that negatively affects a case that they are not even related to will have terrible, chilling effects.
Already there’s an almost Kafka-level of confusion surrounding exactly how, why, and what tweets are used in the court of law, and it’s sending ripples through the internet. Already, the trial of Gottfrid Svartholm is hinting at the kind of world Falkvinge warned of – a world where someone’s 140 characters can be snatched and projected in a courtroom without their knowledge, without any connection to the case, and with some seriously dubious justification.
Not a good time for this, but can someone pls tell me in what context I was mentioned in the Danish courtroom at Anakata's trial today?
— Asher Wolf (@Asher_Wolf) September 5, 2014
Note that we’re not talking about someone related to a case tweeting evidence, threats, or other relevant material. Neither @Asher_Wolf, nor @ioerror have anything whatsoever to do with these hacking charges, nor are they accused of that. But the danger of prosecutors stretching, far beyond reason, the things they – or any of us – say online without our knowledge or clear justification is real. If anyone’s words, even those not related to the case, could be twisted against not only them but someone they don’t even know, then how can any of us feel comfortable enough to speak freely? Will you still tweet news and opinions when any one of your tweets could be used against the person or the cause you are covering? How can we speak freely if, even when we have nothing to do with the charges at hand, our words are twisted around by however-hilariously bumbling lawyers?
And how can we trust those entrusted with the justice system when they have such a deplorable grasp of the digital world? (The world they are, at least in these hacking cases, trying to bring justice to!) The fact that those prosecuting internet-related crimes are so confused by things like linking to an article is a serious flaw in the modern justice system. (I won’t call out Denmark in particular here, many of our own prosecutors stumble spectacularly around computer legislation like the CFAA & DMCA.)
Let’s hope the judge or jury in Anakata’s case know better. Let’s hope that, this time at least, the things said on Twitter and the misunderstandings thereof are laughed out of court.
But this culture clash, to use Appelbaum’s words, is no laughing matter.
It’s way past time we addressed the disparity between the understanding of the internet in the courtroom and outside of it. And it’s way past time we stopped those who simply do not understand the internet from getting into a courtroom to enforce it’s rules.
This week, I wrote about the chilling descriptions of prison life from Peter Sunde, or as you probably know him Brokep from the Pirate Bay. I asked – and still hope – for everyone to write him letters of support during this difficult time. But if you are busy to write letters, you can always just sign your name! Now there’s a petition asking for better, more appropriate conditions for Brokep based on the grievances he’s identified since his imprisonment began. Please take a moment to sign it and show that you do NOT approve of this kind of treatment.
UPDATE: Now there’s a petition to improve his conditions. Please sign and show your support!
Since his arrest, Peter Sunde, founder of The Pirate Bay, has written to the outside world twice to describe the terrible conditions which he and the other Swedish prisoners are subject to. Early in July, he revealed that he’d already lost over 10 pounds in about a month due to the prison diet, which does not sufficiently accommodate his vegan or vegetarian needs. He then wrote a letter on the Swedish news site Aftonbladet about the disgraceful conditions of Västervik prison where he is held. His words are an indictment of the Swedish justice system, painting a disgusting picture of a place that many of us naïvely believed treated both its people and prisoners humanely. My heart breaks for Peter.
“I’m suffering tremendously – socially, physically as well as psychologically – by the shortcomings of Västervik”
Peter himself suffers particularly acutely in prison because the authorities refuses to provide adequate vegetarian and vegan nutrition. “The few vegetables served,” he says in Aftonbladet, “lack the necessary vitamins and minerals.” In this latest update, he says he has lost seven kilos – equal to about fifteen pounds! “I’m suffering tremendously,” he said at the beginning of July, “socially, physically as well as psychologically – by the shortcomings of Västervik.”
Although people will argue that you choose to be vegetarian or vegan and maybe should not have the right to your chosen cuisine while in prison, the fact is prisons are required to provide adequate sustenance in accordance with your beliefs. But, beliefs, apparently, apply only to religious docterines – secular ethics like vegetarianism and veganism are not given the same respect. This is the twenty first century, ffs! Vegetarianism and veganism are hardly some extreme fringe diet. They are not more demanding or complex than religious-based diets. Plant-based meals are not difficult for an institution to procure or make for those in its care. They could easily provide healthy any inexpensive food with plant-based proteins and adequate nutrition. Plus, vegetables are not just for vegans, they’re essential for everybody’s health and wellness. If they are so lacking in Västervik, then I am seriously worried about all the prisoners, not just Peter.
But still Peter stands up for his beliefs, even under these harsh conditions. His bravery inspires me, finally, to return to my own long-abandoned vegetarianism. Maybe not veganism quite yet, but some day. If a prisoner under such physical and mental stress can still make the compassionate choice not to consume animals or animal products, then I as a free person can certainly manage to.
“The word “slave” is often used by the inmates.”
Peter reveals other dark secrets of Västervik, too. Like in the US, prisoners are forced, under threat of isolation and other punishments, to work some crappy job for nearly no pay. “The pay is thirteen crowns per hour,” Peter reports, “The word “slave” is often used by the inmates.” The alternative, for others like Peter who are in a section with no work obligation and no jobs, is being locked up for hours on end.
His reports reveal some truly awful aspects of prison life, like for example the lack of toilets (!!) available to prisoners:
“The GDR [East Germany] had jail cells restrooms. In Västervik Institution, where I am, there is at best a wash basin. In the evening you get to pee in a plastic bottle. [When] we need to do number two, [we] get to call a guard who then lets us out. The advice they give is to take an extra bag to the trash. Although Västervik is reputed to be Sweden’s worst prison, it is said to be just as bad in other places.”
His letters are such a scathing indictment against Swedish prisons, it’s hard to believe such conditions escape outrage and widespread news coverage. A major obstacle, I think, is the pervasive fantasy of Scandinavian countries as enlightened beacons of society. Their prisons cannot possibly be terrible places where authorities neglect basic regulations and prisoners suffer! They are so much more advanced and humane than us!
Maybe Sweden has many wonderful features that surpass the conditions in other countries. But the naïve fantasy that they are a liberal paradise just does not hold up to this reality. Even if, objectively speaking, Sweden’s prisons were better than the horrific hell holes of the rest of the world, that would not ever be an excuse to ignore their abuses and violations. You cannot feel good about yourself pointing to some terrible corner of the world and say Hey look, we’re not executing our prisoners like THOSE people! We’re not locking people in concentration camps and gulags! We aren’t beating our prisoners or ripping out their fingernails! Of course there will always going to be a place that is worse by a thousand times. We used to burn people and cut out their intestines in the town square, ffs. We don’t do that anymore – YAY FOR US – but that’s no reason to pat ourselves on the back, say Look how much progress we’ve made! and call it a day.
We cannot congratulate ourselves for not torturing prisoners with drawing and quartering, and still make them pee in a bottle. We can’t be bursting with pride over no longer cramming prisoners into a squalid tower, when we use them as cheap, forced labor, threatening them if they do not comply. It is a complete farce for prison apologists point to atrocities, elsewhere or in history, as a justification for modern abuses and failings. Neither history nor dictatorships give us a pass to ignore the pleas of the human beings currently under our care. At what point to we move the fuck past medieval standards of justice and hold ourselves accountable for today’s abuses and caring for today’s prisoners?
The prisons’ failings that Peter reports are inexcusable for any circumstance. But it is particularly egregious to subject a non-violent individual to such harsh and restrictive conditions – for Copyright infringement of all things! That a modern, civilized nation could put an individual behind bars and subject him humiliating and physically degrading treatment all for the crime of allowing people to share music, movies, and other cultural material is an embarrassment and an outrage.
Don’t forget either, that we are the real target of The Pirate Bay founder’s treatment. We were all indicted by his sham of a trial. As anyone with half a brain and an internet connection knows, The Pirate Bay that Brokep, Anakata, and TiAmo created was just an empty site, a free space on the internet, a commons where we were invited to come and speak freely. WE came and shared our ideas and information, our culture, our stories and our songs. WE filled up the commons with our own material and with each our culture’s footprint. WE supported the work we loved and spread it far and wide. WE made The Pirate Bay what it is. WE made the site that Peter now sits behind bars for.
His punishment is meant for all of us. It is a show of force intended to scare us out of the commons of the internet. The crackdown on The Pirate Bay’s founder is a crackdown on US, all The Pirate Bay users who dream of a world where ideas and information, stories and songs, all our cultural heritage is free and we are free to transmit it.
When injustice is meted out to one of our community, it is meted out to us all. When one of us is abused, we are all abused. When the powers of the world seek to squash one voice, they seek to squash all the voices of the commons. Let’s respond even LOUDER. Let’s respond with ALL our voices speaking up from the commons, because we know what freedom is and how important it is – thanks to Peter and all the peers who risked everything to bring it to us.
Note to everyone! Many of the quotes here are translated with the help of google translate and my very rudimentary understanding of Swedish. I tried to put them into understandable English, but if anyone has better translations or notices inaccuracies, please tell me in the comments so I can update the article. Despite a lack of information in English, I felt compelled to write about Peter’s plight because I think it is especially close to many of us here, among Pirates, and in the TUEBL community. And it’s precisely because there was not much coverage in the English-speaking news, that I decided to go ahead and write some to share with the readers here. So please help me to improve this coverage if you can, and help to spread Peter’s story to the rest of the world.
I love Red Rising, but this book took OVER A MONTH for me to finish. Yes, I am unusually slow reader, but not that slow. A “slow read“ for me is about a week, maybe 10 days, not an entire goddamn month!
Red Rising isn’t a “slow read” in the traditional sense, though. It’s not boring or stupid. It’s not particularly dense or long. It’s not Ulysses or Shakespeare. But damn, it is a heavy book! Red Rising is a 300+ page, month-long heartbreak. It’s violent, tragic, and gut-wrenchingly angsty. If you like midnight-dark fiction, this is for you. But for me, it was a hard read.
The Red Rising universe is an elaborately futuristic one: humans spread out across the galaxy long ago, from the moon to Mars and beyond. Humanity is (–TOTAL SHOCKER–) strictly stratified. But instead of fracturing their world(s) based on ye olde prejudices like classism, racism, and sexism, the humans of Red Rising fracture their society by human-defined colors: “Golds” rule at the top, “Reds” labor at the bottom, and all colors of the rainbow are stuck in between. Social mobility is not a thing – not until one lowly “Red” decides to fight his way to the top.
The oppression, propaganda and violence that hold the people of Mars in place are intensely, uncomfortably familiar. Despite the futuristic setting and the alien planet, the power dynamics and the violence are sickeningly similar to the horrors of our own world. And just like the sickening power dynamics of this world, it was difficult to read.
I read this books in GIANT CHUNKS. I’d read till I was falling asleep over my keyboard, then put the book away for days, hesitant to pick it up again. Despite the fascinatingly detailed world, despite the utterly, familiarly real characters, despite a story that made me completely invested and dying to know what happened next…… my stomach turned at every page, and sometimes I just did not want to continue.
It is a violent book.
This is not a softened, romanticized story of revolution. The characters are visceral, they are passionate and fearful and angry and hate-filled. The action is…. what you would expect from a story about one people oppressing another. And I’m no stranger to violent, dystopic fiction. That’s a huge chunk of what I read. And I really did love Red Rising. I love the ambiguity, the realness, to this book.
But I can’t feel excited reading violence – real or fictional.
Fiction that mirrors reality – even in a completely alien world – makes me feel an outrage and frustration that just hits way too close to home. As a teenager blissfully unaware of the real world, violent dystopias were fascinating. But now…. it’s just too horrifically familiar. Somewhere along the way to growing up, I seem to have lost my ability to read this kind of book.
Red Rising is a series – or it will be shortly. But I don’t know if I’ll make the jump to Book 2. I don’t know if I want to add more violence and horror to my bookshelf. There’s enough non-fiction for that :/
It’s a world not-so-different from our own. One company dominates the social sphere. The Circle and its ideas of radical transparency pervade private life, communications, and the world at large. Privacy is theft. Sharing is caring. Secrets are lies.
Long story short, I liked The Circle.
The writing isn’t exactly Lord-of-the-Rings-calibre beauty, but it was quick to read. The simple, bare-bones prose is sometimes choppy and awkward, but it moves the story along. It’s really familiar too: Dave Eggers’ voice is shockingly similar to Cory Doctorow’s. (Little Brother, Homeland etc.) And the subject matter isn’t far off either. Like Doctorow’s universes, The Circle takes place in a world uncomfortably similar to our own. The technology is not quite distant enough to call sci-fi. The politics and policy recall our own talking heads. The social environment, enmeshed with tech, is eerily like our own day-to-day surroundings. Of course, Doctorow’s books focus heavily on the technology (surveillance and militarism in Little Brother, the games in FTW, mashups in Pirate Cinema), and they are populated largely by tech-savvy teenage boy protagonists (loved the girl power in FTW, though!) Eggers’ focus is more social. In The Circle, we’re aware that there’s a lot of tech magic going on behind the scenes, but we largely breeze past it. The meat of the story is the implication of the world’s biggest, fictional social network on human interaction. Rather than the technology, it’s the bond between friends, co-workers, family, bosses that take center stage as they are alternately thrown into turmoil or magically fixed through the omnipotent powers of The Circle.
The Circle’s characters are unobjectionable, but also unremarkable. For a story all about connections between people, I really didn’t feel a connection to any of the people in the story – major or minor characters. Our eyes and ears throughout the story are Mae, a new employee of The Circle. Mae is a smart, independent woman who thinks for herself………..for about two pages. She questions, in passing, the pervasive, authoritarian hand of the company she works for, but is a toeing-the-company-line fangirl for the bulk of the story. There’s almost something Stockholm-Syndrome-ish about Mae – The Circle rescued her from a dreary existence and some misery in her family life and she repays them with undying love and loyalty. But it’s not as simple as that and Mae, in my mind, doesn’t get to play the helpless victim unable to make her own decisions. She makes it clear she gets what the company is doing, and her brief lapse into authority-questioning makes it clear that she gets that it’s not quite right. Ultimately she’s responsible for her own beliefs and decisions. Ultimately she chooses to be a slavishly-loyal fangirl.
Filled with slavishly-loyal fanboys and fangirls like Mae, The Circle is the in-crowd (albeit one with deep pockets and the ear of governments). But those on the outside, like Mae’s family and neanderthal of an ex-boyfriend are are hardly more likeable. As dead set on connecting the world as The Circle is, the outsiders are dead set against it. Mae’s ex is so anti-technology, he won’t even read online reviews of his own business.
The Circle is a dystopian warning. Every review/article I’ve seen on it compares it to Facebook, but it’s comprehensive infiltration of every aspect of life more closely approximates Google. Regardless. The whole thing is set up as a portent of total control via social networking. It could’ve been written by Julian Assange. (Actually, go read Cypherpunks. Then come back and tell me The Circle doesn’t violate the copyright of the cypherpunks’ collective dystopian nightmare!) And The Circle’s observations of the dangers of total surveillance through “voluntary” participation online aren’t completely off base. It’s got a point.
But as reminiscent of reality as its setting is, it’s conclusions are incongruous.
In The Circle’s universe, the world gallops enthusiastically forward into its dystopic nightmare. Young people in particular both create and welcome the nightmare. The book is explicit on this point: the young people of the world, with few exceptions, take to the lack of privacy without question.
Except they don’t.
Not really. Not in this world.
And while The Circle isn’t exactly a perfectly allegorical piece with a one-to-one, fantasy-to-real-world correlation, it is quite clearly supposed to be this world in which this whole nightmare is going down.
But the naive youth sacrificing privacy at the altar of corporate America – that isn’t the reality of this world.
Yes, the Circles of the real world – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Microsoft…. – are well on their way to totalitarianism in their disregard for their users rights and privacies. Yes, we live at the mercy of these corporations and often times give them way more trust than they have earned. Yes, we of the net generation embrace public life and social connections with open arms.
But our open arms haven’t flung away our privacy rights.
When Snowden revealed that we weren’t even safe from our own government, use of Tor shot through the roof. But young people didn’t need Snowden to tell them that they wanted more privacy. In the real world, teenagers took to SnapChat faster than the imaginary teenagers of Eggers’s universe took to the Circle.
Yes, Snapchat’s promises of security were shit. Yes, most high schoolers aren’t Facebook-stalking their crushes over Tor. But although the infrastructure for security is woefully lacking, and although it doesn’t necessarily pervade daily life, the demand is there. The desire to have some part of life remain ephemeral and secret and personal and exclusive is alive and well in the youth of this world.
The youth of this world want privacy. The youth of this world want personal space. The youth of this world want the choice to live large and public or to grow and develope behind closed doors and whisper in the dark.
That choice – to voluntarily occupy private or public space as we wish – is sacred to the Net Generation. It’s the corporations that aren’t living up.
At least that part The Circle gets right. But the rest does not ring true.
With a style echoing Doctorow’s, I couldn’t help making constant comparisons: Doctorow’s youths fight the oppressive states and pervasive monopolies; Eggers’ youths welcome them with open arms. Doctorow’s teens use their wits to outsmart the stifling infrastructure they live in. Eggers’ teenagers line up to lose their privacy, and young adults happily take it from them.
I did enjoy The Circle, I really did. But the assumptions behind it I did not buy. The line it pushed was faulty. Maybe Eggers is a complement to Doctorow – maybe he’s the other side of some coin. Maybe their worlds aren’t mutually exclusive. But I’d rather live in Doctorow’s.