Privacy, the hidden aspect of Swedish democracy
The administration's use of the new possibilities offered by information and communication technologies of may be problematic from a privacy point of view. As an example, a citizen may experiment as an infringement of his/her privacy the fact that a public authority collects personal information on the Internet and social media in order to investigate an administrative case.
In the same vein, the disclosure of the names of public servants in the decisions of the Parliamentary Ombudsman published on this authority's website may also raise privacy issues. These two questions and their legal implications are examples of the issues tackled by Patricia Jonason in the research project “Privacy, the hidden aspect of Swedish democracy. A legal and historical investigation about balancing openness and privacy in Sweden” financed by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).
The interdisciplinary research project has its point of departure in the prominent role the principle of publicity - and especially the right of access to information component - is assigned in Sweden as a condition for democracy in that it ensures free debates and the possibility to monitor power. On the contrary, is it not as well established in the public discourse that the right to privacy also is a condition for a democratic society. In the meantime independently of the definition of the concept of democracy, ie more with a political approach, as a deliberative form of governance, or with a legal approach, as a regime which guarantees human rights, the protection for privacy is of crucial importance in order to fulfill the democratic goals.
Anna Rosengren is in charge of the historical part of the project. In this part, the stipulations of the Freedom of the Press Act concerning official documents is in focus. In particular, Rosengrenfocuses on the way official documents are created, as well as on awareness among individuals about how their personal data in official documents are handled.
Concerning how official documents are created, research is limited which makes the topic an interesting one. A document which is official may be requested by everyone, and will be released in the absence of secrecy regulation. The fact that many official documents with personal data may be released may lead to possibly detrimental effects on personal integrity. This is another reason why the topic merits investigation, especially in the light of the new General Data Protection Regulation which will enter into force next year. In addition, it is of great importance from the perspective of rule of law that individuals may know about the content in laws, such as the stipulations of the Freedom of the Press Act regarding official documents. As Rosengrenshows (Rosengren2017, “The Swedish Black Box”), not only the rules of the Freedom of the Press Act affects the creation of official documents; other factors may also cause the creation of new official documents. This makes it hard for individuals to be aware of how their personal data may be handled in official documents.
The method used is “linguistic-historical analysis” in order to identify important changes of meaning in central concepts, among others, by studying the language of the source material. One such example is the Swedish term “offentlighetsprincipen” (often translated into “the principle of access to official documents” which may be assigned different meaning (Rosengren2017, “Offentlighetsprincipen i teori och praktik”). This important term therefore needs to be analysed with an open mind, rather than with the assumption that its meaning is established and not subject to change.