As Data Retention Looms In Sweden, It Is Already Useless

Today at 1600 hours, the Swedish Parliament will vote on Data Retention. The vote is expected and hoped to result in a one-year postponement of the abhorrent mass surveillance, so the vote will have to wait a year, but nobody really knows. I will watch the vote from inside Parliament and post the result as soon as it happens. However, a tweet yesterday caught my attention and shows that it is already useless.

Whisper Systems has been busy securing our mobile phones with free-to-get beta software. The data retention depends on having an operator which actually saves your calls and texts, and the fact that Police can confiscate a phone and find a complete log of whoever we have called after we have been red flagged.

Free software such as Ubuntu GNU/Linux has long come with security provisions that entirely disable authorities’ access to citizens’ personal and private data, both in transit and storage, and other open software like TrueCrypt have solved the problem for those that prefer Microsoft software. However, citizens have not been able to secure their mobile phones. With the photo and mail repository that is normally on a phone, this is a cause for grave concern.

Therefore, I was happy to see yesterday that Whisper Systems have released an Android core with full disk encryption, making extraction of data from a phone impossible unless you are the right owner. I expect this will be the first of several alternatives. Whisper Systems has previously released Android software that makes voice calls encrypted and untrackable (RedPhone) as well as software that encrypts texting in transit (TextSecure). Alas, RedPhone is still US-only, but I hope that will change soon.

It is particularly important here to distinguish between “legal” and “just”. The telecoms standards are chock full of provisions on “lawful interception”, which is being used in Arab dictatorships as it is, well, lawful. But it is not just: citizens’ data is their own, and they have a just right to protect it from the snooping eyes of authorities. We have arrived at a point were code trumps law, and people are becoming aware of it.

As a side effect, I think this development (people moving their conversations off of snoopable nickel-and-diming networks) will kill the entire telecom industry in a decade or two. More on that in a later post.

For protecting data in transit from non-phone computers, there is always The Tor Project, I2P and similar initiatives. Full Mental Straightjacket noted this yesterday.

At the same time, we see that authorities in countries with data retention in place are requesting data on everybody and their brother’s tiny transgressions. The average count of data requests is 140,000 a year. There is no European country with 140,000 serious crimes. None. France goes worse with requesting 500,000 pieces of data. Poland tops the list of shame with the full million.

So on one hand, it is obvious that authorities use this to go after Average Joe en masse, and not (only) against hardened criminals. On the other hand, the same hardened criminals have long had the capability to — justly — keep their data to themselves. This capability is now gradually seeping to larger masses. That’s a good development.

Now, if we could only get rid of the clueless Big Brother politicians. “Politicians are like diapers: they need to be changed often, and for the same reason.”

More blogging about the DRD: Full Mental Straightjacket, Lake, Frank, Nisse, Jens Holm, Maria Ferm, Mary Jensen, Camilla Lindberg, Frekar, Skivad Lime.

Op-eds: Ny Teknik, Newsmill.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Piratpartiet Live! (@piratbloggar) (@piratbloggar) (@piratbloggar)

    Falkvinge on Infopolicy: As Data Retention Looms In Sweden, It Is Already Useless:
    Today at 1600 hours, t…

  2. Magnus

    “people moving their conversations off of snoopable nickel-and-diming networks”

    That is simply not true. You are maybe just looking at friends around you, but most people does not even know about the data retention law, they do not even want to know, they feel that it do not concern them. They have nothing to hide, at least that is the mental excuse to brush off the uncomfortable thoughts. Any one persisting in trying to get through, only becomes annoying.

    It is a huge ocean of perception between you and the average person on the street, all those gray little people just going about living their life. They only “know” what you can read on the front page of the large newspapers, nothing else, and most of that is forgotten a week after it is published.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      I’m talking about several parallel developments that I predict will accelerate in the coming 10-15 years; I’m not talking about today.

      I will return to it in a later post. 🙂

  3. SocTrap

    Good article Rick.

    An additional note. At some point soon, we need to detach the idea of privacy from criminality. Even to the extent of not quoting the two together. There are a couple of paragraphs here where you attach them quite closely.

    Voting is private, but not illegal. Videos of my wife on my hard drive are Private, but not illegal. My medical records on the internet and my hard drive are private, but not illegal. All communication between myself and my lawyer and my priest are sacrosanct, but not illegal.

    This is the point of privacy. Not to commit crime (that may happen too).

    The law is way behind on this. Search warrants are there for a reason. The fact that people do things on a computer or in a house or on a phone, changes nothing. It is private.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Yes – I agree. This is a worrying development. However, I think the first necessary step is to juxtapose privacy and lawfulness, just like you do in your second paragraph, to point out that it is ok to demand to have some things to yourself.

  4. Björn Nilsson (@Beelzebjorn)

    RT @glynmoody: As Data Retention Looms In Sweden, It Is Already Useless – an arms race governments can’t win #privacy

  5. Kevin Davidson (@MetalSamurai) (@MetalSamurai)

    RT @glynmoody: As Data Retention Looms In Sweden, It Is Already Useless – an arms race governments can’t win #privacy

  6. NingĂșnOtro

    Your wishes are coming true… Spain and Canada RedPhone-enabled since yesterday 15th march 😉 .

    1. Rick Falkvinge


      1. NingĂșnOtro

        Clueless Big Brother Politicians next to go, if we help them a little.

        But I think they know perfectly well what game they play… game-theory ridden statistical survival strategies among non-cooperating elites with some to be truly rotten to the core. People might well end feeding Matrix’ organic batteries once the gamers runs out of petroleum… if it doesn’t really WAKE UP before it is too late.

        The elites option (the rotten more than any other) is to come all together as one in the NWO. The most rotten will lure the other saying everything will become cheaper and easier if they do not fight each-other. This might be true, but it mostly would guarantee the rotten will stay on top forever.

        We must expose the vested interests of most established top elites in getting into the privileged club, be their politic spearheads conservative, socialist, liberal,… ideology doesn’t really matter when you have to beg the bank for money to fund the election campaigns. You end up chained to the incurred debt and if you are a nice Pavlov dog they may forgive some of it (not all of course, it cost them a big effort to enslave you, and you are more useful than a Zombie-PC no matter how much you look alike pushing buttons in Parliament).

        As Pirate Party, we should NEVER get indebted, and we should not partner with any indebted Party.

        Who needs money anyway? It mostly serves to buy other peoples brain-time. Sure we have enough not to have to beg for more?

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