Swedish ISPs Defy New Piracy Law

STOCKHOLM -- Two Swedish Internet service providers are responding to the country's new anti-piracy law by scrubbing IP address logs of customers.

Sweden's IPRED law, based on the European Union's Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, came into force this past month and according to reports, the country's Internet traffic dropped some 30 percent.  The legislation also requires ISPs to turn over user information to rights holders in copyright violation cases if ordered to do so by authorities. 

Swedish ISPs Bahnhof and Tele2 are now "nuking" client IP addresses to protect anonymity according to ARSTechnica and numerous other news outlets.

"We will erase the IP addresses after they have been used for our internal use," said Tele2 Swedish CEO Niclas Palmstierna, whose company serves more than 600,000 clients.

"Previously, we have stored some information about our customers' IP addresses for internal use, but now the privacy issue has been pushed this far with the IPRED discussion. We do this to strengthen our customers' privacy," Palmstierna said, reports TorrentFreak.

"There is nothing in the Electronic Communications Law that decides what we should store; only what we shouldn't store. We have analyzed the legislation carefully and found that we have no obligations at all to store information about our customers' IP addresses," he continued.

Back in November Bahnhof  CEO Jon Karlung wrote in an opinion piece, "In its current version, the law makes no difference between computers and users. And meanwhile, it makes spies out of the ISPs."

Deleting IP data is not yet against the law in Sweden, even under the new IPRED provisions for handing over data. But without that information, Internet piracy investigations are sure to stall.

However, Europe's 2006 Data Retention Directive may well require both ISPs to retain user data for six months to as long as two years. Then again, Sweden, while a member of the EU, has ignored enforcing the directive, though that now may change.

The Swedish government assumed ISPs would fall in line with IPRED.  While Bahnof stated it would provide data upon request, it would not link it to a user.

"It's about the freedom to choose, and the law makes it possible to retain details," said Bahnhof's Karlung, as reported last week by AVN.com. "We're not acting in breach of IPRED; we're following the law and choosing to destroy the details."

Karlung has said should the government take action to force ISPs to deliver information it will comply, despite concerns over privacy. However, he believes a groundswell of public opinion against data retention could come into play.

Meanwhile, Peter Danowsky, a lawyer for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, has said he can change the IPRED law to include ISP compliance.

"Everyone in the parliament has been operating under the assumption that the ISPs are loyal to the legislation and don't want to participate in breaking the law," Danowsky said in a statement. "If Tele2 takes this attitude and other operators follow, there will be a stronger law in the future."

Danowsky is currently working with book publishers to obtain information about the user behind one IP address in the first official IPRED case, regarding audio book piracy, and so far, has been stonewalled by another ISP, Ephone, which has refused to turn over the user data.

"The evidence that the publishers have submitted is incomplete," Ephone's lawyer told the court, saying screenshots and log files as evidence are not enough to disclose user data.

Danowsky, who's been called everything from "an attack dog" to "a fascist" by opposition, has countered, "It is astonishing that someone who claims to be a serious telecoms company wants to contribute to breaches of the law, which is the meaning of what they do."

One Swedish politician, Karl Sigfrid of the Moderate Party, an IPRED opponent, is urging other ISPs to revolt and erase user data, reports TorrentFreak.

In a lengthy letter to his provider asking it does the same, Sigfrid wrote, in part: "As a customer I ask you to stop storing information on the IP address that you assign me. The data need not be stored by law, and other Internet providers have already decided to discontinue storage."

"Since you store my IP address, I cannot operate an open wireless network without exposing myself to risk of having my identity extradited to the copyright holder. This is because I can not check if anyone else is guilty of illegal up-or downloading through my account," the letter continues.

Sigfrid goes on to write, "A letter from a copyright holder and a possible lawsuit is a major inconvenience for those who have done nothing illegal, especially since a customer can ask his ISP to take legal action to protect their clients' right to private communications."

The entire matter of Sweden and IPRED is seen worldwide as a global proving ground in the face-off between Internet users and copyright holders, with governments caught in the middle, though more often than not, aligned with rights groups and businesses.