Could Iceland really become an "Information Haven"?

15 February 2010

9:45 AM

15 February 2010

9:45 AM

The most exciting news of recent weeks (slightly underplayed by the Guardian which had the scoop) is the news that a group of freedom of information campaigners are planning to turn Iceland into a haven for free speech.
This is potentially an extraordinary idea. Iceland would attract media organisations and start-ups by protecting them from censorship and aggressive libel laws such as those we have in Britain. There is a great piece by Wikileaks editor Julian Assange on the Organgrinder blog in The Guardian.
The nub of the proposition is this:
"In my role as Wilkileaks editor, I’ve been involved in fighting off more than 100 legal attacks over the past three years. To do that, and keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions. We’ve become good at it, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can’t expect everyone to make such extraordinary efforts. Large newspapers, including the Guardian, are forced to remove or water down investigative stories rather than risk legal costs. Even internet-only publishers writing about corruption find themselves disconnected by their ISPs after legal threats. Should these publications not relent, they are hounded, like the Turks & Caicos Islands Journal, from one jurisdiction to other. There’s a new type of refugee – "publishers" – and a new type of internet business developing, "refugee hosting". Malaysia Today is no longer published in Malaysia. Even the American Homeowners Association has moved its servers to Stockholm after relentless legal attacks in the United States. That’s why I’m excited about what is happening in Iceland, which has started to see the world in a new way after its mini-revolution a year ago. Over the past two months I have been part of a team in Iceland advising parliamentarians on a cross-party proposal to turn it into an international "journalism haven" – a jurisdiction designed to attract organisations into publishing online from Iceland, by adopting the strongest press and source protection laws from around the world."
There is likely to be a British delegation to the Icelandic parliament in the near future, so I’ll keep readers of this blog informed of developments.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Your blog is good.

  • Herbert Thornton

    I wouldn’t be optimistic that opinions and information expressed in Iceland – whether in speech, print, or on the Internet – will necessarily be available for people in, say Britain or Canada, to listen to, or to read as a newspaper or on a computer screen.

    The problem is that the Human Rights Industry and others determined to suppress what they regard as undesirable opinion will make it dangerous, or at least burdened with quite draconian financial penalties, not merely to express such opinions in Britain or Canada, but to in any way facilitate the opinions being disseminated. It is not surprising that Canadian Human Rights Commissions are often referred to as the Canadian Thought Police.

    Proceedings of this sort have actually been brought in Canada. One example is that of a Canadian-based Internet website where the website owner was not shown to be in agreement with the opinion, or even to be aware of its existence. It has also happened in the case of Canadian magazines. In one case the costs of the proceedings were so burdensome that the owner was forced out of business. In another, more recent example, proceedings were brought against Macleans Magazine. Macleans were sufficiently wealthy that they were able to successfully resist the proceedings against them, but despite that, their costs of resisting were enormous and they received no reimbursement of their costs.

    From this sort of regulation, it is a very short step indeed to making both Internet Service Providers and bookshops subject to severe penalties for allowing the transmission of prohibited opinions and for having for sale books, magazines and newspapers containing articles expressing prohibited opinions – even if they disagree with the opinions. The Thought Police are without doubt eager to increase their power to suppress free speech and the dissemination of ideas even further.

  • Beer Moth


    It’s your haddock they’re after. And in return they’ll fill your towns with the scum of eastern Europe.

  • Ulfur, Reykjavik

    An Icelander myself, I seriously doubt that Iceland will join the EU. There simply isn’t enough support for such a move. Yes, talks are being held, but the Icelandic government knows that unless something changes dramatically, membership will be rejected by the electorate.

    Thus we will, for the foreseeable future, retain our own libel and privacy laws, as well as a rather effective courts system which has not yet awarded damages to the insane levels seen in the UK.

    I do, however, share Mr. Rosenberg’s misgivings about the independence of Icelandic authorities in relation to outside influences. Icelandic politicians are unfortunately as incompetent and crooked as such people are everywhere else in the world.

  • call me dave

    Are the Grauniad & Spectator ever going to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons?

  • Jon Rosenberg

    Neal Stephonson’s excellent novel Cryptonomicon, dealt with the difficulties and possibilities inherent in such a project. He seemed to be convinced that it’s main function would, eventually, be to provide banking services for drug runners and third world kelptocrats. A formalization of the various money laundering schemes already in existence. The people in his book who were creating the Data Haven were prepared to accept that in order to frustrate major governments controlling information resources and avenues of dissemination.
    Whether this sort of thing will ever happen is problematic on so many fronts, not least as Iceland, independent country though it is can and has bowed to pressure from the international community before now. That being the case there’s no reason to think that a data haven there would be any more secure from prosecution and government interference than one built anywhere else.

  • Naomi Muse

    Maybe it could also be a haven where banks go to avoid international bank taxes.?

  • Albert M. Bankment

    I think this brave and exciting idea will get nipped in the bud, precisely because it is brave and exciting. Iceland would still like to join the EU, although that’s necessarily conditional on the result of the refund referendum, and I very much doubt that our masters would contemplate allowing Iceland to join if it were ‘hosting’ Wikileaks. Imagine the danger of us discovering uncomfortable truths about … well … the EU, for example. It’s inconceivable that a site which would be politically and/or legally unacceptable if it were hosted in Germany, France or the UK would be tolerated in another EU member; certainly not in an applicant country, which needs all the friends it can get.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Can we do anything about stories which are not secret but which some media organisations just won’t run?

  • ChristianV

    I don’t think so, maybe let’s check it out soon. But one thing for sure is that Stern will replace Cowell in the American idol. I don’t think anything official is in place, but it appears Simon Cowell is likely to be replaced by the King of All Media. Howard Stern on American Idol – this is going to be a riot. I’d get payday loans to go see it in person – Baba Booey! Stern DID say that much on his show – but who knows? You never know in these sorts of things. When I see the press conference, I’ll start believing it. That said, if Stern DOES replace Simon…this will get interesting. There will be bababooey.