That I’m not exactly in favour of Lex Orwell, aka the legislation giving the Swedish FRA1 carte blanche to snoop into all kinds of electronic communication, should hardly be a surprise. But how should you protest against the law?
Our old friend Albert O. Hirschman noted that there are three main forms of communication between political leaders and the general public – exit, voice and loyalty. Leave aside loyalty, we have the exit and voice options to consider.
The problem with the “exit” option in politics is that it only works in the longer time-span – as in: After the next election. In Sweden that will come in September 2010 and we can be sure that FRA and the government is betting on the general public forgetting all about the issue. Just as with CCTV cameras – once the public has gotten used to indiscriminate surveillance, it will stop protesting. And in any event there will be other issues on the agenda.
In a way the 2009 European Parliament election looks more promising, if the Pirate Party decides to run a campaign. The problem here is of cause that the EP elections are what we PolSci types call second order elections. There have been endless numbers of upsets in EP elections which have never translated into national politics. In any event: The prospect of being de-selected usually has a restraining effect on politicians.
Economic exit looks a more promising strategy: IT companies have warned that they would move operations out of Sweden and while the Conservatives have been busy promoting themselves as the new workers’ party, business interests could still be expected to have some leverage in the party. On the other hand, we have to see specific actions which could motivate the government to reconsider its position.
Then we have the “voice” options. That the Swedish blogosphere went postal made little impression on politicians – perhaps reflecting that parties do not take blogs seriously – while the belated coverage in traditional media probably helped in bringing the issue on the public agenda.
Using old-skool instruments like demonstrations has an ironic edge to it, and public demonstrations always – without exception – get hijacked by a lunatic fringe. Swedish tabloid Expressen used mailbombings which in all likelihood angered MPs rather than inspiring them to reconsider their errant ways. And sure as hell, some moron had to write a letter to an MP claiming to know where she lived – not that difficult to figure out in Sweden – and threatening to hack into her bank accounts. With friends like that, do you really need enemies?
Maybe the best solution simply is a defensive one: To encrypt all of one’s electronic communications. I’m sure serious terrorists already do this.
Oh and one more thing: Swedish coverage of MPs stances with regard to the Lex Orwell have focused on the possible impact of voting for individual candidates. Let me just note that a) Sweden from my Danish perspective does not have an electoral system which in earnest allows for voting for individual candidates but a slightly modified list system and b) we shouldn’t expect effects to be on the level of the individual MP (who still has to get nominated by his or her party) but on the parliamentary party as a whole.
- FRA is an acronym for Försvarets Radioanstalt, the Armed Forces Radio Surveillance Agency [↩]