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Net neutrality-lovin' Sweden mulls law to censor the internet

Huge policy U-turn has ISP up in arms

The Swedish government is considering overturning its long-held opposition to internet filtering – so says one of the country's most high-profile ISPs.

According to Bahnhof and its CEO Jon Karlung, the ISP received an email from an investigator who said he had been appointed by the government to look into regulating the Swedish gambling market.

The investigation is looking into a new licensing system that would require any gambling site to get a license from the government. Critically, however, in order to make the system enforceable, gambling websites that did not have a license to operate in Sweden would be blocked. And ISPs of course would be responsible for blocking off access to their websites, right down to the IP level.

Even though the investigation is clearly in its early stages, the fact that it is being considered at all has come as a shock to Swedes and the broader internet policy community. Sweden has maintained a firm line against any form of filtering or blocking, even when under intense pressure from other countries.

As one example, a Stockholm district court refused to order Sweden's second largest ISP to block access to copyright infringing website The Pirate Bay late last year saying it was not allowed under Swedish law.

The government... not so much

Although Swedish law is quite firm on the issue of filtering and blocking, the current government has repeatedly signaled that it has a different philosophy. It has repeatedly fought in court – and lost – to have the Pirate Bay's Swedish domains suspended.

It also passed a law requiring ISPs to store all the IP addresses of its customers in an effort to track down illegal file sharers. That was also struck down by the courts but the government held two investigations in order to find a way to reapply it and then do so back in 2014.

On both occasions, the ISP that has signaled its alarm in this case – Bahnhof – fought the Swedish government and won. In 2009, it simply refused to store its customer IP addresses and then when the government withdrew and then reapplied the same law it responded by offering every customers a free VPN service in order to make it impossible for it to hand over its customers' data.

It is worth noting too that Bahnhof hosts the controversial Wikileaks website at its super-secure data center in a bunker buried inside Stockholm's White Mountains.

When the Stockholm court refused to tell an ISP to block a website over copyright concerns, director of IT industry group Bitkom, Bernhard Rohleder, summed up many Swedes views when he said: "The blocking of websites should remain the last resort of network policy. As a measure against copyright infringement, it is quite excessive."

Longer game

Give the Swedish government's repeated and determined efforts to find a way around its current laws however, some suspect it is now trying to find a different way to bring in laws that enable it to enforce internet filtering – and has hit on the regulation of gambling websites as a possible route to do that.

Once such a law is on the books, it would be easier to apply internet filtering to copyright infringement down the line.

"We will not take a position either for or against with regards to gambling," said Bahnho CEO Karlung. "However, we want to strongly warn of action to close parts of the internet that authorities deem objectionable." ®

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