The Swedish government has tried to regulate the Internet through the Data Act and the BBS act. These acts could be used to stop almost all usage of the Internet, but few people obey them, and therefore Internet can still be used in Sweden.
Palme, e-mail email@example.com, at the research group for CMC (Computer
Mediated Communication) , which is a part of the K2Lab laboratory at the DSV university
First version: 1 June 1998.
Latest revision: 4 July 1998.
Note that this document is not up to date with what has happended after 1998.
document is also available in Adobe Acrobat format.
The original version of this paper , was published in the proceedings of the ITS'98 conference . The version you are reading now has been updated and corrected after its submission to the ITS'98 conference.
Table of contents
Many countries are trying to find ways of controlling the Internet through legislation, or through the application of already existing laws. Well-known examples are some countries (Singapore, China) who block downloading of politically unacceptable information from the net, and the Communications Decency Act in the U.S.A., which, among other things, wanted to require Internet service providers to ensure that "indecent" information is not distributed to minors. The Supreme Court repelled this law as unconstitutional. Some American states are trying to pass various kinds of similar laws.
The Swedish constitution  specifies freedom of speech: The right to freely express thoughts, ideas and feelings in speech, print, pictures or other media. But the constitution also specifies protection against invasion of privacy through computer data bases. These two clauses are a base of conflict, as will be described below. The constitution allows certain restrictions to freedom of speech in areas like national security, libel, and privacy and to stop crimes. In deciding on such restrictions, the constitution says that freedom to express ideas in political, religious, scientific and cultural areas should be specially safeguarded.
Another important part of the Swedish constitution is the part about public documents
. This part specifies that all documents, handled by the government, should be
freely available for any citizen to look at. Exceptions must be clearly specified
by law, and are allowed in areas like national security, personal medical information,
The laws against slander (libel), racial agitation , etc. will of course apply equally when these crimes are performed by computer. Court precedents show that (before the BBS law, see below) only the person entering the illegal information into the data base can be prosecuted, not the person maintaining the data base.
The Swedish copyright law  allows people to make personal copies for their private use of copyrighted material. This right is however not available for computer programs or digitally stored information. Like in most other countries, it is very difficult to find and prosecute people who have made illegal personal copies of copyrighted information. Prosecution occurs mainly when illegal copies are sold commercially or distributed on a large scale. One important court precedence, upheld by the highest Swedish appeals court, found that the owner of a BBS was not responsible if his BBS stored and made available copyrighted software - only the person who had entered the information into the BBS could be prosecuted. The main reason for the BBS law described below was to change this and put some responsibility on the person who manages the BBS.
The first version of the Swedish data act  was passed by the parliament in
1973. The intention of this law is to protect personal privacy. It controls data
bases of personal information. Such data bases can only be used by permission from
a special government agency, and storage of information about people's political
and religious opinions, ethnical groups, medical problems and sexual preferences
are only allowed in exceptional circumstances.
The problem with the data act and the Internet is the very wide definition used
in the data act for what is "storage of personal information in computer data
bases". The act includes every single occurrence of any kind of information
about an individual person, even mention of a person in ordinary text or in a picture.
This means that almost all usage of the Internet is illegal according to the data
act. It is very surprising that politicians have passed new versions of the data
act many times, but not changed this anomaly.
In 1982, when the data act was to be revised, I contacted a Member of Parliament,
whom I know, and he entered a motion in the parliament saying that the data act should
not be allowed to be used to restrict the freedom of speech. This motion was denied
by the parliament without any reason specified.
As described above, several Swedish court precedents had clarified that only the
person who put illegal information into a computer could be prosecuted for slander,
copyright infringement, racial agitation, etc. But in several cases it was very difficult
to find out who this person was. The government thus wanted a law, which put some
responsibility on the provider of the "electronic bulletin board". Electronic
bulletin board was defined so that all storage of data on the Internet would be covered,
with the exception for personal e-mail which is only stored in the mailboxes of individual
persons. All web pages, archives, different-time discussion groupware, etc. is thus
covered by the law.
Principles of the BBS act
The act , as passed by the parliament, says that it only covers information
in data bases which obviously are illegal according to certain listed laws: Racial
agitation, telling people to commit crimes, child pornography, illegal violence descriptions
and copyright infringements.
The BBS act will probably mean that some Usenet News groups, in which illegal information like child pornography or racial agitation often occurs, will have to be closed down in Sweden. For other discussion groups, it will probably be enough to provide a means for people to complain of illegal messages, and to remove messages when there is a complaint regarding them.
The BBS law was not passed unanimously by the parliament. Several non-socialist parties did not want the law to be accepted, arguing that the free discussions in BBSes and on the Internet was important to democracy, and that the law would make the provision of such services more difficult.
The fact that left-wing parties have favoured these controls more than middle and right-wing parties tends to support these conclusions, since probably the Internet users on average less often have left-wing views than those who do not use the Internet.
This paper is not meant to indicate that all regulation of Internet content is undesirable. Certainly, Internet, like all other media, needs regulations. But how that is best done is not the issue of this paper. Also, this document has not been updated with what has happended after the year 1998.
|The laws in the reference list have URLs to their Swedish-language text.
 Swedish constitution on freedom of speech, Regeringsformen, http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19740152.HTM .
 Swedish constitution on public documents, Tryckfrihetsförordningen, http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19490105.HTM , chapter 2.
 Libel (slander), racial agitation, etc. in Brottsbalken, http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19620700.HTM .
 Copyright act, http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19600729.HTM .
 Data act, http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19730289.HTM .
 BBS act,http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19980112.HTM .
 History of the COM Computer Conferencing system, http://dsv.su.se/jpalme/s1/history-of-KOM.html .
Other documents of interest .