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Reykjavķk Grapevine

The Reykjavík Grapevine
Issue 2 ? 2011
Feature | IMMI
The info-wars have begun, and 
Iceland is begging to be the leg-
islative battleground.  In the wake 
of the international controversy 
made mainstream in part thanks to 
WikiLeaks? highly-publicized and 
continued release of leaked docu-
ments from around the world, Ice-
land remains curiously relevant to 
the debate raging globally about 
transparency reform, information 
freedom, and the future of journal-
ism.  The Icelandic Modern Media 
Initiative (IMMI), founded last year 
in tandem with a proposition to 
drastically overhaul the country?s 
freedom of information laws, is re-
sponding to the new info-climate by 
proposing a legislative framework 
that could effectively make Iceland 
into an international transparency 
An amalgamation of legal provisions 
from around the world dealing with 
source and libel protection, freedom 
of information and transparency, the 
IMMI proposal has garnered interna-
tional attention as the most compre-
hensive legislative protection package 
for investigative journalism and free 
speech that the world has seen to date. 
Notably, three of the five primary au-
thors of the Parliamentary proposal?
Julian Assange, Rop Gonggrijp, and 
Birgitta Jónsdóttir?are among others 
being probed by the U.S. Department of 
Justice as part of the ongoing criminal 
investigation into WikiLeaks' disclosure 
of thousands of leaked State Depart-
ment cables beginning in November 
 Yet for many freedom of information 
activists following the transparency 
movement?WikiLeaks is not the point.   
 ?This is a much more complicated 
story than just WikiLeaks,? says Smári 
McCarthy, co-founder of the Icelandic 
Digital Freedom Society, ex-WikiLeaks 
volunteer, and one of the authors of the 
IMMI proposal who as of yet is not vis-
ibly under investigation by the DOJ.    
 ?To focus on them is like to focus on 
one grain of sand on a very big beach.?
Smári and others in the core organizing 
group of the IMMI describe WikiLeaks 
as the ?crowbar? of the information 
freedom movement?the wedge that 
opened the floodgates?propelling the 
issue into mainstream discussion.
 ?I?ve been doing this for a lot of 
years,? says Smári, ?and I?ve always had 
to start off by explaining what the hell 
I?m talking about. Now I don?t have to 
explain that anymore. Now I just have 
to figure out a way to make it seem less 
 But in Iceland that battle may al-
ready be close to being won, especially 
since the IMMI proposal was passed 
unanimously by Alþingi in June of last 
  ?[We started talking about IMMI] 
just after the big National Assembly [in 
2009], where ?integrity?, ?equality? and 
?honesty?, were sort of the key words? 
says Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the proposal?s 
chief sponsor in Parliament.
  ?I realised that if there was a time 
for Iceland to take a specific route or 
direction, this could fit into that sensa-
tion that the nation had.?
 An Icelandic MP and the founder of 
The Movement (formerly of The Citi-
zen?s Movement), a political party de-
voted, as she puts it, to ?changing the 
way we do business in Parliament,? Bir-
gitta considers the freedom of informa-
tion debate to be central to the ques-
tions Iceland struggles with as it begins 
its slow recovery from the economic 
  ?I?ve read the Shock Doctrine,? says 
Birgitta, ?and that implies that when na-
tions are in crisis, very damaging legis-
lation is often pushed through because 
people are simply in too much shock to 
realise what sort of impact it can have. 
But during that state of shock, you can 
also do very positive things.?
  ?If you live in a democracy,? Birgitta 
says, ?and don?t have freedom of infor-
mation, it?s not a democracy. And peo-
ple have to understand that if you don?t 
have freedom of information online, it?s 
not going to be offline, either.?
 Underlying their emphasis on the 
importance of freedom of information 
(or foi as some of them really do call 
it), in particular with regard to legisla-
tive reform, the philosophy of the IMMI 
organisers seems to be based in the 
shared belief that information is central 
to a functioning democracy.
  ?When Iceland?s economy col-
lapsed,? says Smári, ?what we saw was 
that every single failing that caused 
that collapse was a lack of information 
flow. The regulators, the banks, the au-
ditors, everybody throughout the chain 
either had insufficient information, or 
whoever was supposed to be regulat-
ing them had insufficient information. 
So the entire thing can be to some 
degree understood as just a failing in 
information flow. And of course if you 
don?t have the information you don?t 
have accountability, you don?t have any 
of the safeguarding structures actually 
functioning. So in essence you do not 
have anything that is in any way akin to 
a democracy, if you don?t have informa-
The idea for Iceland as the ?Switzer-
land of bits??the information-focused 
equivalent of a tax-haven?was first 
brought up to members of the IMMI 
at an Icelandic Digital Freedom Soci-
ety conference in 2008. The sugges-
tion came from John Perry Barlow, an 
American cyberlibertarian and one of 
the founders of the Electronic Frontier 
Foundation. The following year, the DFS 
invited WikiLeaks to speak at their an-
nual conference. Reiterating Barlow?s 
sentiment of an information Mecca, 
WikiLeaks also did him one better, 
providing the members of IMMI with a 
list of laws regarding press and source 
protection that had proven useful to 
them, a list that would become the 
blueprint for the IMMI proposal.
 ?We cherry-picked all the best laws 
from around the world that are dealing 
with the issue of freedom of informa-
tion, speech and expression,? says Bir-
gitta. ?And what we did was not only 
cherry-pick the best laws, but the laws 
that are actually functioning as the best 
laws. They don?t only look good on pa-
per. The reason for that is that if our 
law would come under attack, because 
we?re a relatively small nation, then 
it would be an attack also on the law 
in Sweden, or Belgium or the United 
States, or France.?  
 Julian Assange?who helped draft 
the proposal and also to present it to 
members of Parliament prior to the 
vote?wrote in a blog entry on the 
Guardian website the night before it 
was filed, that he hoped that ?Iceland 
could be the antidote to secrecy ha-
 ?It may become an island? said As-
sange, ?where openness is protected ? 
a journalism haven. Sleet Street 2.0?
The question of how best to facili-
tate information flow, and how to do 
it responsibly, is a key and contended 
question brought into the public eye by 
the actions of WikiLeaks over the past 
few years.
 Herbert Snorrason is one of the 
primary spokespeople for OpenLeaks 
(www.openleaks.org), a whistleblow-
ing alternative that launched its site late 
last month and that advocates a more 
egalitarian approach to the distribution 
and release of leaked documents. Her-
bert ended his stint as a WikiLeaks vol-
Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir
Hörður Kristbjörnsson
The IMMI proposal combines stat-
utes from around the world?Swe-
den, Belgium, the United States and 
France, among others?dealing with 
source and libel protection, freedom 
of information, and transparency, 
in the hopes of creating compre-
hensive legal protections for media 
organizations, newspapers, journal-
ists, and sources alike?globally.
The proposition was passed unani-
mously by Alþingi on June 16th, 
2010, and has thus become parlia-
mentary policy, though as of yet it 
has no legislative value. All of the 
proposed improvements to at least 
13 laws in four different ministries 
have yet to be passed, and the es-
timated time for the entire IMMI 
package to be legislated is about 
one year.
The proposal?s primary sponsor in 
Parliament was Birgitta Jónsdót-
tir who, along with Julian Assange, 
Smári McCarthy, Herbert Snorrason 
and Rop Gonggrijp, was also one of 
the proposal?s primary authors.
Birgitta says it would be ?bizarre? if 
the overwhelming support shown 
for the proposal by Parliament in 
June of last year wouldn?t translate 
when the laws have been written 
and are ready to go through the Par-
?The economic benefits to being the safe-haven for 
free speech are very well known, because the last 
country that did it is still the dominant empire on 
the planet.?
Iceland, WikiLeaks and the electronic frontier
What do y'all think? Will the IMMI laws be passed by Alþingi? Will Iceland be the world's haven from libel 
laws and gag orders? Will it rescue us from KREPPA? Leak your thoughts to letters@grapevine.is (also, if 
you're interested in leaking actual documents to us, we wouldn't mind printing that stuff).

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