Impopular Culture

Impopular Culture

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Coming at the world from an unexpected angle, far too fast to stop.

It Can't Happen Here

NewsPosted by Pelotard 2010-12-06 02:02:18

I see that despite loud claims to the contrary, the Swedish government was well aware that the U.S. embassy was gathering information about people for... well, no defined reason, apparently. The reason I see this is that someone was thoughtful enough to post minutes of the Govt's meetings with said embassy staff - one Julian Assange.

Wow, is that bloke in trouble.

I don't think he minds, as such. Judging from how he spends his days, he seems to be of the opinion that unless someone somewhere is completely outraged by what he does, he's wasting his time.

I've been known to voice the opinion that if nobody is angered by what you do, you're not doing it right. But that it does not follow that you're doing it right just because someone gets angry. You might simply be an arsehole.

Lots of people seem to think Assange is of the latter disposition. And when he came to Sweden to hole up, the result was an international arrest warrant. Not that I would - based on what I've read in the papers - see that particular case as proven beyond any reasonable doubt, seeing as he's angered just about every government on the planet. And especially in view of the Swedish government's apparent eagerness to please the U.S. embassy re. people they wanted to keep an eye on.

But the reason why he came to Sweden was a bit interesting, especially in view of an earlier post I made about better-behaved kings. It turns out he wanted to put his information on servers in a country with liberal laws on freedom of information. And we do have one provision which is rather unique, which is the Principle of Public Access.

In short, our constitution guarantees that any citizen can walk into any government office and demand to see any piece of paper. The only exceptions are for national security and hospital records. They are not allowed to charge for it, except a nominal fee for any photocopies I ask for. They are not allowed to ask who I am. They are not allowed to ask why I want to see it. The only thing they are allowed to do is to hand it over.

And before you ask, yes, this includes everything. My grades at school. (It includes everyone's grades; the current king wasn't particularly successful - his grades have been in the newspapers.) This includes minutes of the meetings of the city council, and every letter ever sent to them. This includes my income declaration at the tax office. (Yes, my income is, by the Swedish constitution, a public record, which I realise seems to most people like having a life-sized picture of yourself in the nude on the front door. But hey, we've never done it any other way, and my income isn't very interesting. Very few people's are.) This includes letters sent to the PM, which has been the cause of much hilarity when French and German PMs have sent him letters which were absolutely not intended for public eyes but which ended up front page news.

Why is this so? Why do we keep everything public?

This is, actually, a fundamental difference between this country and most other places in the world.

The authorities are my servants. They are there to do the job I tell them to do. I'm their employer. So I have the right to turn over every paper they have in their offices, because they are my papers; I own them, the PM is only the person I'm allowing to sort them for me. In many places, the constitution places limits on the authorities' power over the citizens, but the underlying assumption is that there are Rulers, and then the Ruled, who might have some rights. Our constitution works much the other way around: the authorities are only allowed to do what the people have allowed them to do. (This can, admittedly, be quite a lot.)

It all follows from the very first sentence of our constitution:

All public power derives from the people.

Works for us.

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