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Privacy, the hidden aspect of Swedish democracy

A legal and historical investigation about balancing openness and privacy in Sweden


Swedish Research Council

Project type


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.

Anna Rosengren, lektor - Jönköping University

  • Rosengren, Anna. Openness, Privacy and the Archive: Arguments on openness and privacy in Swedish national archival regulation 1987–2004. Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2016, Working paper 2016:4, http://sh.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:971682/FULLTEXT01.pdf
  • Jonason, Patricia, Le droit d’accès à l’information en droit suédois: une épopée de 250 ans, International Journal of Digital and Data Law, 2017, http://ojs.imodev.org/index.php/RIDDN/article/view/137
  • Jonason, Patricia, Le droit à l'oubli numérique en Suède, Blog droit européen, 2017, https://blogdroiteuropeen.com/2017/05/19/le-droit-a-loubli-numerique-en-suede-par-patricia-jonason/
  • Rosengren, Anna. Offentlighetsprincipen i teori och praktik. Arkiv, samhälle och forskning 2017:1, pp. 26-57
  • Jonason, Patricia, Administration et collecte de données personnelles sur Internet et les réseaux sociaux : à la recherche d'un cadre juridique adéquat, Revue internationale des gouvernements ouverts, 2017
  • Jonason, Patricia, Online Proactive Disclosure of Personal Data by Public Authorities. A balance between transparency and protection of privacy, The Right of Access to Information and the Right to Privacy: A Democratic Balancing Act / [ed] Patricia Jonason; Anna Rosengren, Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2017, 27 p.111-137
  • Rosengren, Anna, The Swedish Black Box.On the Principle of Public Access to Official Documents in Sweden, The Right of Access to Information and the Right to Privacy: A Democratic Balancing Act / [ed] Patricia Jonason; Anna Rosengren, Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2017,27, s. 77-109
  • Rosengren, Anna, Power to the people – or privacy in peril? Alinguistic-historical analysis of the meaning and boundaries of the principle of public access to official documents [forthcoming]
  • Jonason, Patricia, The Swedish measures accompaying the GDPR,E-conference on National Adaptations of the GDPR, June 7- , 2018.
  • Jonason, Patricia, The Right to Be Forgotten in Sweden: The theory and practice of privacy protection mechanisms in the face of referencing by search engines in: The Right to be Forgotten in Europe and Beyond/ Le droit à l’oubli en Europe et au-delà / [ed] Olivia Tambou, Sam Bourton, Luxembourg: Blogdroiteuropéen , 2018, s. 62-71
  • Jonason, Patricia, Rosengren, Anna, On Democracy, the Right of Access to Information and the Right to Privacy. In The Right of Access to Information and the Right to Privacy: A Democratic Balancing Act / [ed] Patricia Jonason; Anna Rosengren, Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2017,27, pp. 5-10.
  • Jonason, Patricia, The Right to Be Forgotten: The balance between the right to privacy and freedom of expression, Jonason, Revue européenne de droit public = European Review of Public Law, ISSN 1105-1590, Vol. 30, nr 1, s. 213-226.

Research area / geographic area

Social Sciences Public Law Sweden

Project time

2015 — 2018


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