WikiLeaks seeks online safe haven in Sweden

Whistleblower site moved its servers out of the U.S. in 2007. U.S. could demand Swedish police aid in investigation

Published August 18, 2010 8:05PM (EDT)

WikiLeaks moved its servers from the U.S. to Sweden in 2007 to take advantage of laws protecting whistleblowers and a culture supportive of online mavericks.

Sweden's support for Internet freedom has made it a base for cyberactivists ranging from a Chechen rebel site to the file-sharing hub The Pirate Bay.

But even here, WikiLeaks may not be home free.

The self-styled whistleblower, which has angered Washington by publishing leaked documents about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, could present a strong test of how far Sweden is prepared to go to defend its freedom of expression.

Swedish laws allow prosecutors to intervene against publication of material deemed harmful to national security. It's unclear whether that could also include the security of a friendly nation. The U.S. argues the secret documents risks the lives of coalition forces and Afghans helping them.

Another question is whether there is political will in Sweden to go after WikiLeaks. The site's founder, Julian Assange, is confident there isn't.

"The will of the Swedish people is with us," Assange told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the U.S. has not contacted Sweden about WikiLeaks. Any complaint against the site would be a matter for Swedish judicial authorities -- not the government, Bildt said, but added he doesn't primarily see WikiLeaks as a legal problem.

"Is it responsible to publish information that leads to people being killed? I think that is more of an ethical question than a legal one," he said.

Swedish ministers typically refrain from getting involved when foreign governments complain about material published by the country's media.

Last year, Bildt dismissed demands by Israel for the government to condemn a Swedish newspaper article that claimed Israeli soldiers harvested organs from dead Palestinians.

Asked whether Sweden would react differently if it were the U.S. that had issues with material published in Sweden, he said: "It makes absolutely no difference."

Still, not everyone is confident that Swedish authorities will let WikiLeaks be.

The Pirate Party, a small Swedish political group that holds a seat in the European Parliament, on Tuesday offered Wikileaks to use its servers. Their reasoning was that it would be even more difficult for authorities to seize servers owned by a political group.

Assange has said WikiLeaks routes its material through Sweden and Belgium because of the whistleblower protection offered by laws in those countries. He was in Sweden this week in part to prepare an application for a publishing certificate that would make sure the site is fully protected by the Swedish laws.

However, Oscar Swartz, the founder of Banhof, Sweden's first Internet provider, said it's not so much the wording of the laws that have attracted online rebels to Sweden, but how they are applied.

"Lawyers in the U.S. ... use the law in an adamant way and try to find any opportunity they can to throw spanners into the works of people," he said. "We don't use the law in that way in Sweden."

Swedish law enforcement cannot issue an injunction to close a website before a court has convicted the publishers of a crime, but can seize a server as part of a criminal investigation, said Johan Lundmark, deputy director at the Justice Ministry. He questioned whether it could be considered a crime in Sweden to leak classified U.S. documents.

The Swedish prosecutor handling media issues has previously rejected Russian calls for an investigation into a Swedish-based Chechen rebel website, saying the country's laws are aimed at protecting public order in Sweden, not in "Russia or elsewhere in the world."

That indicates U.S. officials may only be able to target WikiLeaks' servers by demanding legal assistance from Swedish police for their own criminal investigation.

"At the end of the day, it will all boil down to some kind of interpretation by some authority, which will consider ... if there is a possibility to assist the American police with the support of existing rules," Lundmark said. "This is a complicated issue and there are loads of questions that could pop up."

Still, in the case of filesharing website The Pirate Bay, extensive communication took place between lobby groups for the U.S. entertainment industry and the Swedish government before the prosecutor pressed charges against the operators.

The four men behind The Pirate Bay last year were sentenced to one year in prison each and ordered to pay combined damages of 30 million kronor ($4.1 million). They have appealed and the website is still running while they await a retrial.

WikiLeaks' servers are hosted by the same company as The Pirate Bay. And that's not the only link between the two.

In the list of credits at the end of a military video of an attack on unarmed men in Iraq, Wikileaks thanked The Pirate Bay's reclusive technical mastermind, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, for his assistance.


Associated Press Writer Karl Ritter contributed to this report.

By Malin Rising

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