Yesterday’s vote in the Swedish Parliament about data retention — which fortunately went well for now — unveils a deeper issue with the way our liberties are being systematically eroded to please special interests. Who makes our laws?
The newly-elected Member of Parliament Maria Abrahamsson wrote on her blog that she would vote YES to traffic data retention, for the sole reason that it was better than today’s unregulated case where the operators stored the traffic data records indefinitely and would give it to practically anybody who asked.
If this had been the case, it would have made sense to vote for a law which mandated storage for six months and which prevented giving the data to anyone but law enforcement authorities. It would have been a privacy-positive step.
However, Mrs. Abrahamsson had been lied to — deliberately, one must assume. This is not the first case and it unveils a significant problem in the entire lawmaking process. The Members of Parliament are held to account in every election for how they have voted, and rightly so, but they have no means of studying every issue in-depth. That would be the equivalent of being an expert in every field, no matter how narrow — it isn’t possible within the known laws of physics.
So the Members of Parliament are supplied with scene-setting decision backgrounds by civil servants. If the data is faulty, the MPs have no means of discovering that without becoming independent experts in the field themselves.
Going back to the case of traffic data retention, the reality was — and still is — that telecom operators in Sweden are explicitly banned from storing traffic data for a message any longer than is needed to deliver the message in question, with the exception when traffic data is needed for invoicing, in which case they may store it for as long as needed for invoicing and not a second longer. So Mrs. Abrahamsson had based her decision on faulty data which she had been deliberately supplied.
I brought up this issue in a panel yesterday evening — that it is not our Members of Parliament who make our laws, but the unaccountable, invisible civil servants who provide them with background material and scene-setters for each decision — and the MPs and ex-MPs who were present on the panel, much to my surprise, agreed completely.
It also explains why members of the copyright lobby are walking around — quote — like children in the house — endquote — in the Department of Commerce, which houses the civil servants preparing decisions on copyrights and patents.
This is a real democratic problem that goes to the roots of representative democracy, or maybe even to democracy as a concept. Is there a quick fix?