Category Archives: Our Connection

About Us and the Internet in Our Time

A New State of Play

Have you ever met a dedicated player? One who does not only satifies their thirst using dice, cards, computers or funny constumes. A real one, trying to imply the Rules of Engagement onto the Battlefield of Life? If you recognize any of these comments, I bet you have:

“Are you REALLY going to do it THAT way?”
“That is not the PROPER way to use that.”
“I was only joking – don’t you have any sense of humour?”
“Be careful now, you never know what (relevant) people will think.”
“Yes, I like it, but can you not be a little bit more [insert statement here]”

If incubated in a gameplayer environment from childhood, you learn to play well – very well. You learn who to use. And who you can abuse. You learn how to be the best. And how to make sure others always come in second. Your reward? Admiration, Status, Power.

If incubated in a gameplayer environment from childhood, you may start to think that the way to win is to be the one who plays best. This is not the case. The winner of the game is the one who designes the rules. As long as someone plays – the designer wins. As long as you can play, you can also loose. And as long as you play, you loose. Every day.

But watch out if you try to stop playing. Because nothing annoyes a designer more than someone who doesn’t play their game. Or if you try to change the rules. Many abused spouse knows that it is when you try to leave the relationship that the serious beating starts. And many an employer seem to note that it is difficult to employ women (unless they are kind enough to behave a little more like men of course), because then – suddenly – we would have a different State of Play. The rules would change, and how would the poor other gamers then know how to play?

I wish I could have caught eye on my State of Play earlier. Then I might have seen that there is another way to do things than what I was taught. Witout using people or abusing them. Without being the best, and without having to trample my way to the top. In MY State of Play there some are things I am willing to get hurt for, but nothing I am willing to hurt for.

Consider – there are only three rules in life you HAVE to follow:
1. Be born
2. Die
3. Decide what to do in the meantime

We all need to do Nr. 3 in our own way. It is not only best that way – it is the necessary way . If I would spend time considering what everybody thinks, I would not have time to do anything else. So sorry, I don’t have time to follow your rules. Yes, I will do it THAT way. If I want to, I will use it in VERY improper ways.  And I will laugh at your jokes when they are actually funny, but not before.

I guess that’s why I’m the bitch. Hope you like it. (Then of course, if you don’t – I really don’t giva a damn).

Yellow Card


On June 23rd, the British voted in favour of leaving the European Union with the smallest possible majority, 51.9%. Paradoxically, the United Kingdom was also the country which had the most exceptions and opt-outs from EU legislations in the first place.

In a time when the European Union has suffered crisis after crisis and also been critizised for its lack of capability in handling the chain of events, it is perhaps in place to remember what the Union actually is.

The European Union is a complex structure. It consists of 28 countries, and is inhabited by people who speak around 90 different languages. It is a complex, multicultural entity stiving for unity. Geographically it unites a piece of land which is not geographically very large, in fact it is a little protrusion from the vast Asian continent. A small mass of land, inhabited by 500 million people who during the last 70 years have endured peace – almost. The Union was created with the expressed goal of preserving this multitude of cultures and languages while at the same time uniting around common goals. According to nationalist critique, this preservation of the multitude in every minority is exactly what has made us weak. They forget that when we strive to preserve multitude, we strive to preserve ourselves – we are small!

Apparently, a large number of opt-outs only makes the Union as a while more fragile, while not achieveing enough good-will in the countries recieving them. In light of this, there is reasont to reconsider the value of such exception schemes. After the last few years of crisis, Europeans long for better cooperations, but seem to disagree on the means to get there. If the Brexit was a yellow card for the Union, we have not yet been given the red. Let’s use this lesson to make a better union for those who remain. It’s time for a Union of One – not 27.

The Brexit makes us scrutinize ourselves and ask what kind of Union we actually want. Is it a swiss cheese of opt-outs and exceptions like the British had, or is i an union of different layers of involvement? Each of these solutions only makes the Union more comlex, more complicated and more a work of legislation and less of vision. Is it a good idea to add layers to the onion, or will it just make it harder to reach the core? Above all, we need to remember that a Union is a Union of an idea, just as much as of rules and laws. The latter just follow up to formalise a wordless agreement allready made. No country could ever be forced into a Union, and should not be kept in a Union where they do not wish to be.

I took the Union for granted. My first vote as I came of age was by chance one for the European Commission and my first national election came some year later, and it all seemed nothing strange for me at the time. But I did take it for granted, and I beat myself up for that today. The Brexit taught me one thing – I am not Swedish, not Scandinavian, not half Estonian, not British. But I am European. Stangely that notion would never have come to me if I had not felt it threatened. Perhaps it is true like James Baldwin said, that Home is not a place, but an irrevocable condition.

Be Careful Who You Mock

Okay, I may as well say it straight away. I am going to say something about the European Union, and I may as well spill the beans: I am not an impartial observer. My father came fleeing in a boat when he was not much older than Alan.

I am the product of him and a woman he met in his new country. In my desk drawer is a knife from a German working camp, which was the only thing – except for the clothes on his back – my grandfather brought with him when he was finally reunited with his family after the war. Today I use it to cut my apples. The second world war is very much alive for me, and so is the United Nations, the European Union, born in the wake of the war along with all the dreams and hopes of peace and collaboration they stand for. So yes, the Brexit makes me sad. Very sad. And as an expat in the UK, it will affect me, I’m sure. In no way am I an impartial observer in what  write here.

Personally, I can feel sad that the British, who after all share a history of war similar to mine, no longer share the same dream of collaboration. I can even feel angry sometimes. But I cannot critize the decision. However, I do feel there is reason to turn a critical eye towards the European Union and their marketing department, as well as towards media and how they choose to tell their stories. Luckily, thanks to another large collaboration project, the Internet, media companies are no longer the only one’s with a voice.

Not long ago a rumor circulated that Sweden would no longer be allowed to call the traditional spirit Glögg my its name. The rumors were unsubstantiated. The history of the European Union has been followed by similar scare-stories, many of them turned out to be a hoax or a misinterpretation. A misinterpretation that was nevertheless echoed loadly in the media before the much more modest correction was published. After Brexit, it has turned out that many of the arguments presented to the voters were in fact based on incorrect information. In a democracy, the power is with the people. But how can the people in power make a correct, intelligent and well informed decision if it is not fed correct information?

Stories of regulations that defy the common sense have circulated throughout the history of the EU, and are now termed Euromyths. Stories ranging from overzealous size and shape restrictions on fruit and vegetables to the forced renaming, rebranding or banning of certain local products.

Of course, these news makes for great headlines with a humouristic twist. Somehow, it does not seem so funny anymore. Luckily, the cucumber stories are not yet half as funny as the Hippler images. But of course, Nigel Farage lands the message not far from it.

Yep, that’s right guys. That’s me, the third guy from the right in the 17th row, coming to you my fellow British, to live and work and take salary away from my employer and deposit it with the tax office and the health service and the pension scheme. Secretly plotting to start a family and slowly, organically, taking over the country in a threatening horde of mixed background english-speaking babies.

Media likes to mock the sitting office and that is of course also their task to review and question and critizise. It is easy to poke finger at the highest power. No one likes someone who bullies the weak, the minority or the impaired. The Power is free game. But media, please do not forget that in a democracy, the power is really always with the people, and you are the ones forging the weapons. If a message of contempt and ill favor and ridcule is repeated without balance, it may feed not only a disregard for the party in office, but a contempt for the whole system it builds on. In the end, this paves the path to power for parties and people who openly question the democartic system they use to get there. We have seen it historically in Europe before what we hope will be the last great war, and we see it today displayed in front of cameras soon on daily basis.

In a media society, exposure is a currency worth more than the kind issued by any bank. Unfortunately, bad exposure is so much more potent than good. It is exploted by terrorists of many kinds.

I would ask you who make a mockery of the institution you live under to ask yourselves why you do it. Do you truly believe you are creating something better, or is the motivation simply a cheap attempt at five minute fame?

The war on terror continues to gnaw on civil rights

Just i few weeks ago, the European Parliament approved the gathering of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for all flight passengers entering or leaving EU. The Parliaments summary of the stakes conclude:

“PNR data would enable law enforcement authorities to identify previously “unknown” persons, i.e. those previously unsuspected of involvement in serious crime or terrorism, but whom an analysis of the data suggests may be involved in such crime and could be further investigated by the authorities.”

The term “unknown” is unsettling.

In contrast to the current measures Advance Passenger Information (API) the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the second order Schengen Information System (SIS II), which only enables law enforcement to search for previously known suspects, this directive opens up for the investigation and tracking of individuals using airline passengers’ data irrespective of whether or not they are suspected of any crime. It is not a far drawn conclusion that some form of broad trawling will occur.

What will be the effect of such broad trawling of travel records and personal information, and the storage of the same? In opposition to API, stored records are just that – stored, and can then mostly be used after something has happened, or to track individuals of suspicion, but its effect in preventing a new attack is doubtful. Especially since would-be terrorists can read open media as well as anyone, and supposedly have no problems adjusting their travelling schedules to stay under the radar. If that happens what is the next step? To turn up the volume? Today’s directive is limited to external airborne travel (p.3). If it would be extended to internal EU travel – which will come under consideration in two years time – EU will have taken a first step from a union promoting free trade to a nation of surveillance.

Will this happen? It seems the exclusion of intra-EU flights is not primarily because of concerns for data protection, but a request from air carriers (p.7), who feel this would “imply heavy costs and an unfavourable competitive position compared to other
transport modes”. Including other modes of transport in the directive would surely solve the unfairness in competitive position and has also been proposed in the 2011 working paper on impact assessment (p.38).

The combination of an extension to internal-EU flights and all modes of transport would certainly be happy days for programmers and IT-technicians. Worse days for passengers who will most likely be stuck with the effect of this through higher ticket prices. The worst of days for anyone concerned with personal privacy.

It seems, the concern for terrorist activity has tipped the opinion of policy makers in the direction of efforts to improve security instead of civil liberties. With no regard for the fact that terrorists have repeatedly shown the ability to strike despite all such efforts. From a terror perspective, one target may be just as good as another. If one seems to hard to reach, there is always a plan B, a strategy well demonstrated by the Brussels attack. It is thought that, after the Paris attack on Friday, 13 November 2015, a second one was planned, but that the target changed, and the schedule was rushed as a result of successful efforts from law enforcement.

For a terrorist, harder oppression is rarely a problem. But a terror organisation that cannot recruit has a worse problem. In a dictatorial police-state, terrorist activity is next to impossible. But harder pressure from the enemy (the free state) will also mean just the opposite – more potential candidates willing to sign up.

For the free state, the situation is reversed. Tools of surveillance, oppression and interference in civil rights will – maybe – make the single terrorist easier to catch, but what’s the point, if – by that time – the free state is no longer free? It’s a lose-lose situation.

Secondly, once tools of oppression are created they are there to stay. Today, these tools may be wielded by law enforcement and government officials in more or less transparent democracies in which we believe we can trust, but what happens when this is no longer the case? Governments change, but the tools we hand them remain.

Terrorists seek publicity by spreading fear and chaos, but also seek to polarise the debate and create a harder climate between “us” and “them”. Unfortunately there is no shortage of politicians anxious to help them along by demonstrating to the press and the public that they are  taking resolute action. If the resolute action is effective or not, does not appear to be under much consideration. Nor is there a shortage of IT and defence firms seeking new markets. No conspiracy theories needed – a self-driven spiral of common interest will suffice. By enforcing more and more restrictions, we are slowly creating a society less and less like the the society we want, and more and more like one the terrorists would like.

The European Data Protection Supervisor, discussing PNR systems more generally, has noted that (p.4):
“The fact that recent technological developments currently render wide access and analysis possible […] is not in itself a justification for the development of a system aimed at the screening of all travellers. In other words: the availability of means should not justify the end.”

Asking for Evidence

The EU directive on gathering Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for all flight passengers entering or leaving EU will imply an increase in cost for air carriers and be severely intrusive to data protection. Is it worth it? Is it effective? Are the effects proportionate to its negative impact?

So far, no hard evidence has been presented by EU institutions to demonstrate the need for PNR collection and analysis, as has been previously reported by Statewatch (p.3).

The Commission’s impact assessment on its proposal relied on three cases to illustrate the necessity of the system.

The first example (p.12) is a case where PNR analysis uncovered a group of human traffickers always travelling on the same route. The second case (p.12) relates to human and drug trafficking cartels, identified on the basis of having bought tickets with stolen credit cardsby PNR. The third argument is the unsubstantiated claim by a number of third countries and member states that (p.13):
“The experience of those countries shows that the use of PNR data has led to critical progress in the fight against crime, in particular, drugs and human trafficking and the fight against terrorism, and a better understanding of terrorist and other criminal groups through the gathering of intelligence on their travel patterns.”
However, no data from member states is shown to support these statements.

Several institutions have raised the need for evidence:

The Article 29 Working Party, an advisory institution made  up  of  representatives  of  EU  Member  States’  data  protection authorities, has stated that (p.3):
“The Working Party has yet to see any statistics showing the ratio between the number of innocent travellers whose PNR data was collected to the number of law enforcement outcomes resulting from that PNR data.”

The European Data Protection Supervisor, discussing PNR systems more generally, has noted that (p.4):
“The necessity of the measures must be established and supported by concrete evidence”

Despite this, the fight against terrorism is mentioned in the European Parliamentary Research Service briefing (p.1) as the primary reason behind the PNR proposal.

The Fire Window through the Ask for Evidence campaign in this open letter invites the European Parliamentary Research Service to present evidence for the claim that the implementation of a framework for surveillance would in fact reduce terrorist activity within European borders.

How Terrorists Negotiate European Politics

On 14 April 2016, the European Parliament finally approved the much debated proposal on the storage and analysis of data from flight passengers entering and leaving Europe, the so called PNR data. New Europe reports:

“Travel arrangements recorded as PNR data are used to identify specific behavioral patterns and make associations between known and unknown people.”

For now, the directive only concerns external flight passengers, but the proposal includes an option to extend it to internal passengers as well, to be revised in two years time. According to New Europe, the vote was preceded by intense lobbying from (among others) the French prime minister. The history of this proposal provides an interesting insight into how we let external events and fear influence the policies we make.

The EU PNR proposal was presented to the Commission in February 2011 and was rejected by the Civil Liberties Committee in Apr 2013, on the grounds of questionable proportionality between the scope as regards offenses and as regards privacy and impact on society. After this, the debate around the proposal was low key. but in 2014, it was referred back to the Civil Liberties Committee. Shortly after, the political arena of Europe changed. On January 7-9 2015 5 terrorist attacks took place in the Ile the France region starting with the the Charlie Hebdo shooting and ending in the hostage situation on an industrial estate in Dammartin-en-Goële and in the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes.

When debating the issue again on November 11 2014, the Civil Liberties Committee were still divided, but

“most stressed the need to assess the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling annulling the data retention directive, to assess whether existing measures suffice before taking new ones and to put in place adequate data protection safeguards.”

Two days later, on November 13, terrorists attacked the Bataclan theatre and a number of other targets in Paris. Not even a month later, the proposal was endorsed by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee on 10 December 2015 by 38 votes to 19, with 2 abstentions. Not surprisingly, the final proposal was approved on April 14 2016. In between, terrorists struck Brussels on March 22.

Anyone with a tendency for conspiracy theories would point out the almost perfect timing between these external events and the scheduling of politically sensitive votes. Of course, The Fire Window is not prone to such accusations, but from an introspective perspective it is of interest to note the change in tone between the issues released from the Article 29 Working Project over the same time.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Project (WP29) is an independent group under Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament. It has an advisory capacity with regard to the protection of individuals and the processing of personal data. In a press release following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the WP29 state that

“Today  more  than  ever,  European  citizens  need  to  show  that  our  societies  will  stand
strong on their common values. These values are fundamental democratic assets, which have developed and matured over centuries and must not be surrendered, whatever the circumstances”


“The  current  situation  obviously  makes it  more  necessary  than  ever  to  ensure  that  an appropriate balance is struck between these different, but not contradictory objectives.” [“The objectives” referring to the  “freedom of speech or freedom of movement vs public security requirements and the need to foster innovation”]

In the aftermath of the Snowden scandal in 2014, the contents of The Opinion 04/2014 on surveillance of electronic communications for intelligence and national security purposes (p.2) the tone is even stronger:

“From its analysis, the Working Party concludes that secret, massive and indiscriminate surveillance programs are incompatible with our fundamental laws and cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or other important threats to national security”

The above two examples chimes well with the concerns raised against the original PNR proposal in 2011, whereas the most resent press release, on the April 2016 vote, carries a very different tone when it states:

“The WP29 welcomes this major decision for European credibility and has already started
working  to  ensure  a  smooth  and  constructive  transitional  period  for  all  stakeholders,
especially to be ready to act as the European Data Protection Board on Day 1.”

Applying the Principle of Informed Concent

“I may have hit him a little, but I didn’t mean for him to get hurt. We were just joking around.”

“I didn’t rape her. She was asking for it. You just need to look at her to know what kind of girl she is.”

My first question is: How stupid can you claim to be and still get away with it?
My second question, after some thought and better formulated is: What if people in everyday life could be subject to the same ethical guidelines governing the work of our scientists?

If you wanted to do science in the age of Leonardo da Vinci, you’d better be prepared to break or bend one or two laws. The situation today is somewhat different, and with the legacy from the Nüremberg trials and the Declaration of Helsinki  yet in fresh memory, most people see the laws of ethics as useful guidelines when it comes to protecting our privacy, our body and minds from the prying and poking of curious investigators in the hunt for new data.

The principle can be summarized as the principle of informed consent. In short, it means that a person must know and agree to anything you wish to do with them. It can be to participate in a study, to be subject of a specific treatment, or in any other way is expected to be influenced by your scientific activity. At first glance it may seem as if his means it is enough if you tell them what is going on. But there is a catch: You have to make sure they understand what you tell them. And it is your responsibility.

Another is in the field of journalism. Talking to relatives and friends of a deceased, or approaching people who have just recently been caught up in a tragic accident requires more sensitivity than the average standard interview with any standars public person. The code Number One of ethical journalism is to make sure that the interviewee has a clear understanding of what is about to be released an accurate picture of the implications to his or her life. To perform and publish interviews with children or people under stress can be considered extremely questionable.

Making sure you have informed consent is not an easy task. You have to consider the persons age, state of mind, level of stress, general status and make an assumption on their ability to catch the full consequence of what you want them to do. And this principle is applicable even if the only thing you want them to do is answer five 1-X-2 questions on a piece of paper. In real life the consequences of non-informed consent can be much more severe.

Can anyone really claim that a teenager should be able to fully understand the impression her clothing may give men twice her age? And can anyone really claim that considering this is her responsibility? What are we – Mindreaders? Omnipotent? And what are you? Slaves under emotion? Children? Helpless and unable to resist any carrot dangling in front of you? What if it would instead be the responsibility of everyone to take responsibility for their feelings/urges/desires/wishes by making sure we live them out in circumstances which does not hurt our fellow man? There is a time, my friend, when it is time to stop pretending to be less than you can be. If not for anything else, so because nobody will believe it anymore.