Peter Sunde (born Sweden, 1978) is quite sarcastic. At a recently held workshop during the second edition of DOKU:TECH in Prizren, he kept asking the audience about corruption problems in Kosovo. He said, “tell me what’s going wrong, and we can talk about how to address those problems.”
People expected him to give alternatives, a new vision, maybe some highly specific app ideas. Instead he would reply by asking them the same question time and again: “What are you going to do about it?”
No apps; no apparent solutions. His jokes weren’t funny anymore. He put the ball in everyone else’s court, encouraging them to stand up and be counted.
Sunde, also known as Brokep, co-founded the anti-copyright collective PiratByran (The Piracy Bureau) in 2003. That same year, they created the most famous file-sharing platform, The Pirate Bay, for which he was also the spokesperson. Last year, alongside other Pirate Bay co-founders, he spent a few months in prison, following a 2012 conviction in Sweden for copyright law infringement.
Maybe his internment made him an ever more well know; expanding his celebrity outside of the ‘geek world’ and free culture movement. But Sunde is also known for co-founding the digital-receipts tool Kvittar, founding the micro-donation system Flattr, and co-founding the internet privacy network IPredator.
Since forming the activist group PiratByran and launching Pirate Bay, online matters have evolved toward a more controlled, less private, less open, and more profitable Internet.
On one hand, the general tendency of governments and entities like Facebook is to bring Internet access to everyone, everywhere. But on the other hand, governments, particularly those around the Western world, have tried to pass stricter and more intrusive international agreements relating to the Internet. Often, we only become aware of them during the last stages of the negotiations. Examples include the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA); the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA); and most recently, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Once the agreement proposal were made public, they were largely rejected by global civil society.
On another note, the 2013 revelations of massive cyber-surveillance by governments and state agencies which were made public by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, revealed the extent of the ongoing, undercover invasion of privacy. Thousands of people across the globe are systematically being targeted through their electronic devices.
In 2003, Anonymous was also founded; a sort of guerrilla organization of the Internet, which stands against big corporations. Then there is Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange since 2006. With the help of newspapers such as The Guardian and The Washington Post, Wikileaks has revealed numerous worldwide governments’ important classified documents, revealing previously unreported scandals from civilian deaths in wartime to corruption.
In a nutshell, there is essentially an ongoing Internet war.
During this year’s DOKU:TECH, Kosovo 2.0 met with Peter Sunde for an exclusive morning chat about many of the issues that worry him in the fight for virtual freedom. We discussed diverse topics; from the net to Nazis, and Facebook to revolutions, as well as money, surveillance, hackerspace, and more.
Kosovo 2.0: Do you have a Facebook account?
Peter Sunde: I have an old account that I stopped using. And I left it [open] because otherwise some other guy would say that he is [me]. I have Twitter. And then I have friends and I go to their houses, and we go out and have coffee.
What about Gmail?
I have a Gmail account, which I never use. I have my own mail server stored in my own network.
Sometimes I use it, but I don’t call that often, just if I need to call some service line… Instead I use Redphone, Signal…
Why shouldn’t we use Facebook?
Actually I’d say that you should use Facebook. Otherwise, you are going to have a really weird social life. It takes a special type of person not to use Facebook. This may sound really bad, but some slaves, in the United States, were able to become [free], but they had to give up quite a lot of things as well. It’s kind of the same thing with Facebook. We’re now the slaves under Facebook. You have the slim possibility of living [outside of Facebook], but you give up your social life. So, if you want to function in a normal society, you should be on Facebook.
Why would you choose to be the special kind that doesn’t want to be on Facebook?
I was always the special kid. But in this field, I feel super uncomfortable with Facebook. I just feel like I don’t want to be there.
But it’s not a question of socializing…
It’s not only that. I’m very Scandinavian in my background, even though I’m not 100 percent Scandinavian; I am Finnish as well. Our society has always been about equality. We have sort of a code of conduct called the “Law of the Jante,” in which there are things like “Don’t think that you are better than anyone,” “You can’t brag…”
People thought these are pretty good rules, [that] we should follow them… Just like the Japanese have a special type of conduct, Scandinavians have a special type of conduct that involves not making other people feel uncomfortable… You don’t brag, for the reason that if you brag, someone else may not have the same opportunities as you. Facebook breaks all these ideas because it’s only about bragging; it’s about showing off your status.
But it’s like with every other technology. Facebook could be used for much more than bragging, it depends on what we use it for…
It’s very hard, but if you lived in Germany in the 1940s, chances are that you [a Facebook user] would probably be okay with the Nazi movement, because everyone else was. It’s this whole mentality; you cannot avoid it. Even though you don’t like it, you become part of it, you become part of the movement… [He pauses]… I have just compared Facebook to slavery and Nazis.
Yesterday, in your DOKU:TECH talk, you literally said that Mark Zuckerberg is a dictator by definition…
He is a dictator, by definition: Single ruler making up all the regulations and laws. He is the dictator of the biggest country we’ve ever had in the world. It’s still growing more than any other country, and gaining more power than any other country. That’s kind of the situation we have and I feel I cannot support that. And I happen to be in contact with friends and people who are similar to me, so we call each other and meet up for coffee… It is very exciting.
Do you still use Pirate Bay? It seems that it’s becoming more difficult to find a place to download files… Laws are increasingly forbidding this kind of file-sharing…
Yes, I use it. I download movies, and others [such as, programs, shows, etc.]. Kick Ass is the best one right now… there will always be options.
But citizens are not organized; actually the people who have the knowledge of technologies, aren’t organized enough… You said that we lost the fight for control, so how is it possible for us to step back onto our feet?
The first thing is that we need to be not lazy, and not naive. And we’re both things, as human species. It’s probably proven, in our evolution, that [it] is good to be lazy, so then you have more energy when you need it, right? We have become really lazy with our situation, and very naive, especially in the Western world. Things just tend to work out somehow — you lose a bit of freedom and you win something else. It’s always a tradeoff.
I think that’s the biggest issue to solve. [It] is not a technical issue; it is about how to make people actually care. And that’s the problem I’m having with all this thinking — they are dealing with issues you think you can solve with technology, so you don’t have to talk to people. But the whole problem you need to solve is how to get people’s attention, interact with them, and be organized.
Two years ago, you joined the Finnish Pirate Party in order to run for the 2014 European Elections. Is that why you decided to enter politics, to break the laziness?
No, that was more for fun, and as a prank. I always try to have this balance of pranking and some thinking. I’m totally doing [it for a] joke, but then again, there are some really serious points. And the reason I’m doing it in a funny way is first of all because it’s fun, but second because it’s a really good way to get people’s attention. They will maybe slowly think about the issues I talk about. I found out that entering politics is not my thing, but I wanted other politicians to talk about my issues, because when I’d talk, there would be a lot of attention on what I said, and other politicians would have to respond. And that meant that they had to be open about thinking about these issues — that was my only goal. I really respect some politicians, though I’d be the worst politician. I wouldn’t negotiate anything, and that doesn’t work in our political system.
Do you believe in a free, open Internet? Is it a utopia nowadays to believe in it?
Of course I believe in it — and we had that. Then people started seeing that [the open Internet] as a market to cash in. But we had an open Internet: everything open, free, equal. Now it is everything but that. We proved that it worked, but we fucked it up.
In previous interviews, you have said that you didn’t care if The Pirate Bay ever shuts down, even though you co-founded it, but now other people manage it. Why wouldn’t you care? What did it become that you didn’t like anymore?
First, it has been run by people who have put up more and more advertisements; they tried to make somehow money out of it, and that was never the goal.
When we realized that The Pirate Bay was becoming big, we decided we would shut it down on its 10th birthday. You have to shut things down, it’s not about keeping stuff up. It’s not about keeping the powers, it’s about achieving a goal, and our goal was to make people think about file-sharing, and censorship, and all these things. We were very successful at that. You need also to understand when the time has past, and you need to end things.
So we decided we would shut it down, and then we were hoping that other [file-sharing] platforms would grow up… We gave The Pirate Bay to other people from the community, and then someone said, we shouldn’t shut it down, because the site is so important to people… The issue is that we have been always working against centralization [of services in the Internet], but The Pirate Bay is in itself one of the most centralized websites. It is like Facebook to social media. If you are against centralization, you can’t run a centralized web service.
You said in a text for Wired magazine, about The Pirate Bay: “We’re underfunded, we’re getting older, and we’re getting lazy.” Is that happening only with The Pirate Bay?
No, no, it’s happening with everyone who is involved in activism on the Internet. It’s becoming really old. If you look at the people involved, they started with understanding that Internet activism was important and caring about the Internet.
Let’s say you invent a new type of music genre, and then you become the only star in that music genre, and then other people join, but you’re still the star. When you die, someone else takes your place. But we’re so young [with the Internet], that we don’t die… A few of us died, but we don’t step out, and that means that new people who come to the sphere of activism look up to you, instead of doing their own thing.
When you turn 35, 40, 45, you have a totally different agenda, a totally different way of life. You don’t have the same energy. It also means that you become more lazy and more convenient… Those are the things that are on the way. We’re not old enough, but we’re too old for what it should be for young people.
Can the Internet have social classes, based on the knowledge we have about technologies?
Everything is about access to information and knowledge about how to access that. So, here in Kosovo, people are craving to get information, movies, shows, whatever people have in the rest of the world. And no one gives them. There is no Netflix in Kosovo, for example. [With the Internet the model is] a typical class society: the people that understand how the internet works and can circumvent issues, so they don’t see them as a problem; and the people who don’t [understand the functioning of the Internet].
If you know what a VPN is then you can use one to get an IP [address] from another country, it’s not an issue. But the rest of the people are not educated, they don’t have that knowledge. They will end in the other class. In real life, if you’re sitting next to a person, and that person has a problem, you would help that person. But we are so isolated on our own screen that we don’t see people like this. The individualism of the Internet makes it really not helpful for the community. I’m really for a classless solution in the world…
I’m a socialist, a Marxist, and I don’t want to have on one hand, people with money, and on the other, people who work for the people with money… Digital communication gives the opportunity for everyone to have the same access to information, knowledge, access to education. Then it’s about how to educate people enough to get to a place where you can keep doing that by yourself. But we’re doing other things, we are using other people’s platforms that decide [based on] how rich your country is, how rich you are, who your parents are… We’re mimicking all these classical things from the physical world into the digital world. We’re deciding to put them there, rather than blocking things actively.
About stopping things, the ACTA and SOPA international agreements, unfavorable to a free and open Internet, were stopped, but not TTIP. Information about the TTIP has been incredibly difficult to understand, and the tech-community has been worried about it too. Can you give us an easy explanation?
It’s a very broad thing. The TTIP is not a trade agreement, but it is designed to be a trade agreement. It’s a really big thing, designed to be big, so you don’t grasp the concept of it. Basically it allows companies to rule the world, going down to the basis. A company can sue a country for not allowing them to do what they want [within] the market. And it also has provisions about the Internet, containing most of ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA. So it’s the devil dressed up as a thing that you don’t understand. When we stopped SOPA and PIPA [in 2012], they already had TTIP in the list because they knew they couldn’t pass those. We have this naivety and this laziness, because since we stopped it [SOPA and PIPA] we thought that it [TTIP] wouldn’t pass. But that’s not how it works in politics. You are sitting there confident because you won, and that’s why you lose.
It seems like we cannot really do much about it, like we are really behind with our knowledge to fight it…
We are not in a democracy. The implementation we have of democracy is not working; it’s not an actual democracy. The European Union, the United States, the way they function, they are not democracies; they are pretty much everything else. They are designed to be democracies for a reason that someone else gets in power, and we are still in this belief that they are good things; that [they] are working for us; but they are really not. We think that politicians are trying to do good, and probably most politicians are trying to do good. We need to redesign how democracy works. Get rid of the European Parliament, get rid of the European Union as a concept, and do something else.
That’s why I was so happy about the Greek crisis. I think Syriza made a point: “We don’t want what you have.” And they [Syriza] are really tough on that; most understood that theirs is a really bad strategy, but it is the most honest one, and it is also the only progressive one — it scared the shit out of the European Union. Not because of paying for Greece, but because they thought: “what’s going to happen if another country tries to have the same approach?” I’d be happy if we have more uprisings, more revolutions, because we cannot fix the system from within the system. And everyone is trying to do that.
I wanted to finish by asking you some of the questions that you yourself asked at the weekend to some of the other speakers at DOKU:TECH. Do you believe in revolutions? In “bloody revolutions” as you said?
I’m not for people dying and getting hurt or anything, but I realized that we are going more and more towards the place where people are on the edge, and will be pressured into a corner. I don’t think it’s about believing or not believing. It could be bloody, it could also not be bloody, and I’m hoping for that. There would have to be some revolution somewhere down the road, otherwise I don’t want to live in that society, because we are really reaching a point, steadily going towards a point, where we have some sort of dictatorship, but we just call it democracy.
Another one of your questions: Did the Snowden case change anything? And if yes, what?
It didn’t. It made people aware of things that they were probably somehow aware of. And now that they are aware of them, and they are public, politicians have to change it. No one is really working on it. We are all individuals, so we don’t have time to care about the collective, and someone else in the collective will have to care about the collective. But there are not a lot of individuals that actually care, and that’s the mistake we’re making all of the time. So… it hasn’t really changed anything.
If the community of hackers and Internet activists gets organized properly, can it also become a sector that stagnates?
I hope that that will happen in the future, that there is some sort of union, or something. Environmentalists have Greenpeace, for example, we have a bunch of lawyers in the United States caring about United States issues… We need organizations. But I really had a hard time seeing that people care about doing that, and that there is enough funding, and how to reach these people? Tech-people really think that they will solve issues with tech, and you can’t get organized before you understand the need for organization, and we are not at that point. I’m always trying to think what’s going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years. I’m always trying to stop and talk about the moral issues and what we want out of the technology.
Last question: What’s your biggest worry about the way in which we use technologies?
The confidence we have in their abilities. When there is an invention, this one has always to go through a testing period. If you invent something for the Internet, you just put it there: here it is. There is no testing, no responsibility, and no accountability. Have you tried calling Facebook? Companies have no accountability; we have no accountability. In a normal society, you have duties and rights. In the Internet, companies have lots of rights and no duties. That is the problem I see — we believe that technology is neutral, and it depends how you use them. We need to get that thinking straight. People don’t understand that technology has multiple angles to its value.K
Photos by Atdhe Mulla
Kosovo 2.0 is DokuFest’s official media partner. We are providing daily coverage from around the festival including film reviews, Q&As and a daily ‘Today @ DokuFest’ guide. Visit our home page for all of our DokuFest content (which will be regularly updated every day throughout the festival).
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