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The Pirates Take Oregon: Turning Tech Into a Political Party

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, August 20 2010

Photo credit: practicalowl

In the United States and over the last few years, the considerable work of groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the Center for Democracy and Technology and individuals like Harvard's Larry Lessig has done much to thrust tech policy debates from net neutrality to copyright into the public eye.

But you can make the case that, in the U.S., tech politics is still tangential to the political debate as compared to what's taking place in Europe where debates about things like online consumer privacy and the right to online access have a hard-core political edge, with a deeper appreciation for how tech policy is central to today's fundamental political questions on individual liberaties, freedoms, and responsibilities. April's debate in the United Kingdom over the far-reaching and much-critiqued Digital Economy Act on copyright, for example, seems to have been widely covered in the British press, with all the passions usually attendant to your more traditional political debates. La Quadrature du Net, or, in English, Squaring the Net, is a good group to follow if you want to keep up on what's happening the European tech battles.

That's where the Pirate Party comes in. The Pirates burst onto the scene in Sweden in 2006, but you might have first heard about the Pirate Party just recently when its Swedish wing partnered up with Wikileaks. Should the Pirate Party (or Piratpartiet in Swedish) gain some seats in the Swedish Parliament in the September 19th elections, the idea is that they'd then be a political party with the institutional validation to give Wikileaks, and all that it represents about online freedoms and the modern flow of digital information, the protections that go along with government. The Pirate mission: to help protect and grow "the emerging information society." And as befitting a networked-minded political party, the Pirates have spread beyond the borders of Sweden, throughout much of Europe, to dozens of countries in total.

And now, to the U.S. The movement to embody the spirit of the modern digital economy in the institutions of old-fashioned politics has hit our shores. The "Oregon Pirate Party," reports GamePolitics, has filed papers with Oregon's Secretary of State Office to register as an official political party there. There's a spirit of put-on at work, here, or at least whimsy. "We are not the naughty kind of pirate," reads the welcome note on the Oregon Pirate Party's pirate-speak inspired website, Arregon.org. It goes on:

We don't sail the high seas with AK-47s.
We don't advocate illegal action, in the ocean or online.
We are a political party.
We seek to change the laws.
We seek to promote innovation and transparency.
We seek to promote Internet access and protect its neutrality.
We seek to finally see a paperless office.
We seek to see wars avoided due to wireless connections.
We want to see oppressive regimes circumvented by the virtual community.
We want to see open source accepted and supported.
We want to see creativity take root and ideas flourish.
We want to see our potential realized in this information age.

According to Willamette Week, it's not clear yet whether the Oregon Pirates have gotten the backing of the more than 20,000 registered voters it needs to qualify as a registered party. They do, however, have a Facebook group.