Swedish File Sharers Need VPNs in Response to Police Crackdowns

by Adam Gill

The Swedish Post and Telecoms Authority began an effort late last month to stop peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing in the country. With the help of the local police force, they plan to punish P2P file sharers. At least one ISP has denied the authorities’ requests for subscriber data, but the case may go to court. As they battle it out, Swedish netizens must look to personal VPNs to safeguard their data and online activities.

Regulators After P2P

Swedish telecom regulators have launched a crusade to track down and punish illegal P2P file sharing. They want to drastically reduce if not eliminate the practice of illegally sharing copyrighted material online. To effectively do this, they need the cooperation of Internet service providers, who are in the position to see what their subscribers are doing online. Otherwise, they would be hard put to learn who is uploading or downloading pirated files.

Bahnhof, the largest ISP is Sweden, has received a large number of requests from the Swedish police for subscriber data. Since the regulators began their campaign, the number of requests has increased. 27.5% of all the data requests they have received so far this year are for online file sharing investigations. The number of requests received for other crimes is less. Usually, Bahnhof gets requests for data in relation to criminal investigations. They are cooperative in the effort to track down online thieves and scammers, child pornographers, and the like. They have refused, however, to release subscriber data to the police for recent investigations relating to online file sharing.

User Rights Versus Government Priorities

Bahnhof has a solid reputation for standing up for user rights, which we applaud. Because of privacy concerns, this top Swedish ISP has chosen to keep what subscriber data they have secret, despite probable retaliation by the authorities. Bahnhof is against government moves to make data retention mandatory, mostly because this will pose a grave threat to the privacy of their customers. In preparation for such a threat, they even launched a free VPN service that their subscribers can use to shield themselves from invasive government data snooping.

If this issue over privacy versus cooperation with law enforcement reaches the courts, which many say is likely, it could turn into a long and tedious battle like those that we have witnessed in the US. Bahnhof is just trying to protect its subscribers’ rights, but the government usually takes the side of law enforcement in these arguments. The police are mainly concerned with catching those who violate the law, and the government is likely under pressure from copyright owners to support any efforts to secure their property.

VPNs to the Rescue

Many countries around the world are facing the threat of mandatory data retention and forced cooperation with law enforcement data requests. Sweden has so far scored very highly on the Freedom of the Net report, but this could soon change. The country has a great historical track record for protecting people’s privacy rights, among others, and this move by regulators and police is a threat to that legacy. Internet users don’t have much power to stand against such moves, but they can start using VPN services to secure their data and evade government tracking. This also helps pro-privacy ISPs like Bahnhof to fend off aggressive attempts to get their data.

Users were on fire during the last weekend of May because of this intrusive new policy. VPNs soon entered the discussion as the best tools to fight against the privacy threat. A good VPN service will make sure that a user’s data is well-encrypted and sent through a strong tunnel to ensure that third parties are not able to read it. Secure VPN servers, OpenVPN where possible, will then safely and quickly reroute that data to the open Internet, evading tracking by keeping the data anonymous. Moreover, the best VPNs will not retain user logs that can be forcibly taken from them by the authorities. If the VPN provider holds no data, then there is no data to use for identifying subscribers.

There are several awesome personal VPNs that are not only serious about protecting their users’ privacy, but are also very easy to use. First-timers especially will want a tool that does most of the work for them so that they are free to use the Internet as usual. Even some VPN veterans may prefer a pre-configured solution so that they do not have to spend a lot of time or effort trying to maintain the best connection. VPNs are now mainstream tools for Internet use that even netizens in free countries must have to protect their privacy.

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