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Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Birgitta Jónsdóttir: State of Icelandic democracy, Internet. January 9, 2012
Thom Hartmann: Welcome back, from Reykjavik, Iceland. Thom Hartmann here with you. And I am very pleased and honored to have with me in the studio, and I have mangled every Icelandic name and I know it. Birgitta Jónsdóttir?
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Yeah, it’s pretty good.
Thom Hartmann: Pretty close? I didn’t win the competition for the most mangled name?
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: No, no. I think they did that in the Bradley Manning pretrials.
Thom Hartmann: Yes, well and that’s very interesting. Your name was used in the Bradley Manning pretrials, they went, because the United States State Department hacked your twitter? You are a member of parliament, in the government, here in Iceland. And our State Department hacked your twitter account? What’s going on?
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Well, I helped coproduce a video that became world famous called “Collateral Murder," that put Wikileaks on the map in 2010, and I put my name there because it was on the list, because I was very proud to share this video which I felt was a way to lend a voice to the voiceless, because this was not a single incident. This happens every day in Iraq. And I also worked as a spokesperson for this video, for Wikileaks and for Wikileaks maybe for a week. So I got intimately connected with Wikileaks and US authorities are on a crusade, on everybody that has ever supported Wikileaks. But I also found out through the pretrials on Bradley Manning, whom I had never heard of, prior to his arrest, and his, the way he is being treated is absolutely disgraceful. He has been in prison for 19 months, and he finally got his pretrial the day before his 24th birthday, in December. And because of this, the Department Justice sent out some form of subpoenas to Twitter, asking Twitter to release all my backend personal information to them without my knowledge within three days. And to Twitter’s credit, they actually took it to court and unsealed it so I could have a chance to defend myself.
Thom Hartmann: Wow.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: And not only at the time when this happened I was not only a member of the Icelandic Parliament but I was also part of the Foreign Affairs Committee and I am still a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. But it is a very serious breach, diplomatic breach. And they are complaining at the same time that the cables were released and I can understand that but the same has to apply to everybody. If they want somebody to honor their diplomatic immunity, they have to do the same.
Thom Hartmann: Or even honor human integrity. I mean the individuality.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Yes. Sorry, just to add to it that the International Parliamentary Union considered this to be so serious that they had the Human Rights Committee go over this incident and they’re making a special report on it and they made a resolution a couple of months ago where they seriously criticized the U.S. authorities for doing this. And this organization has nearly all nations in the world in it except the United States and it has been around since 1895 and I just found out that the United States government usually doesn’t participate in international work on this scale unless they have veto. So in this union, everybody has a say and sort of each country has one vote.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Now you also are one of the parents I guess to say of, or perhaps the sole one, of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative? This thing that you, and did this come out of your being the victim of the State Department, or out of your exposure to the involvement with Wikileaks, or?
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: No this was prior, and this was the beginning of my work with Wikilieaks and other individuals and organizations that were concerned about the state of freedom of information and press and expression and speech.
Thom Hartmann: Right. So what is the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative?
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: It is a set of law changes or new laws, ten to be precise in four different ministries, that I managed to, I was the chief sponsor of it. And my task was to get it through the Parliament. And to my incredible surprise, because it has very big aims in it, I am passed it through the Parliament with the unanimous vote and I don’t think that’s ever happened from such a small minority party.
Thom Hartmann: Wow.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: And so the government supported it, the Prime Minister voted for it, and all the other ministers. And currently, like it deals with laws like, you know, to have the best possible whistle-blowing legislation in the world, the best source protection laws, modernize freedom of information act, dealing with libel tourism, and it goes on and on. People can have a look at if they go to IMMI.is, and it’s in English, the proposal.
Thom Hartmann: IMMI.is, okay.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: But it came as a result also of like what Wikileaks had figured out how to keep stuff up no matter what, what sort of attacks they were under. And we wanted to figure out ways to put that, like pull together all the best laws from around the world to insure that the best possible laws for freedom of information expression and speech. And not for Wikileaks but for all the others that didn’t have the same hands-on experience that they did.
Thom Hartmann: Sure. And, that’s remarkable. The, do you see any efforts or any initiatives, you mentioned earlier before we were on the air about SOPA in the United States, this "Internet Piracy Act". You know, this attempt by largely a few entertainment companies to lock down the Internet, I would say. Obviously they would disagree with that language. As a member of the NATO Parliament, as a member of the Icelandic Parliament and as the author of these, this legislation and these ideas, what is your take on what’s going on in the United States and how that’s going to affect Iceland and other countries, if we go down the road of you know the SOPA in the House, Protect IP in the Senate, these kinds of things.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Well, you know in many ways this sort of reminds me, I worked a lot for Tibetan issues as well, and I have followed a lot of development in China for example. And it looks to me like if you pass this, the SOPA, you will become just like China, when it comes to you know, really poor legislation for freedom of information. And this is, it all started with the Patriot Act. And so I think the next big task for the Occupy movements and all these movements that are working for democratic reform is to create the, you know, remove the patriotic Patriotic act, to remove it, because it is destroyed your first amendment. You can’t really practice. There is so much, practice freedom of speech, because there is so much self-censorship. And I think that if you pass SOPA, I have been following it a little bit through the EFF, and the EFF is…
Thom Hartmann: The Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Yeah. Brilliant people. They are the one that are, who have been, you know the legal team for me and also the ACLU. So they have actually been working with me pro bono. And thus I have been following everything that they are doing and I think that if people really want to know what SOPA is all about that they should really go to the website. But we also have dangerous elements in Europe. We have ACTA [Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement], which is much broader and also deals with medicine and patents on medical stuff. But the trend is worrying and we really need to open our eyes up to the simple fact that we don’t have the same legal rights online as we have offline, we’re simply consumers there.
Thom Hartmann: Is this an area where the conservative parties, libertarian parties, and progressive parties, the left and the right might meet or do meet here in Iceland? Or are these civil liberty questions still largely the province of the left?
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: No it’s still, because the right wing people in Iceland believe in the right for privacy of individuals for example and the right for expression. So I do think that in Iceland we don’t have such strong division as you have in the States, because you have such really strong extremes.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. That’s great. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, thank you so much, and my apologies for mangling your name.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Thank you very much.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.