Regulating Privacy: Vocabularies of Motive in Legislating Right of Access to Criminal Records in Sweden

  • Christel Backman


Ever since it was set up in 1901, the data stored at the Swedish Criminal Records Registry has been viewed as potentially harmful to individuals’ integrity if ending up in wrong hands. For long, the possibility that other actors such as employers might be able to take advantage of individuals’ right to access and review their criminal history information served as a justification for limiting access to criminal records. When, upon recommendation of the Council of Europe, full subject access requests became possible in Sweden in 1987, this perception of the risk of harm to individuals was devalued and the risk element itself reconceived. Not being able to ascertain what was on one’s criminal record was now thought of as creating the potential of greater harm to individuals, compared to the possibility of employers’ taking advantage of the data subjects’ right of access to their personal information. In the last decade, however, the number of individuals applying for a disclosure of their criminal records upon the urging of potential or current employers has drastically increased, reviving the original problem. This chapter analyses the vocabularies of motive legislators have resorted to at different stages of this evolution, first when arguing for restrictions on individuals’ right to access information on their criminal record, and later when attempting to justify full access. The article also throws light on how key concepts such as “legitimate use” and ”misuse” of this information were constructed in the process, and how notions like “risk of harm” to individuals and “just consequences” changed over time.


Criminal Justice System Criminal Record National Police Crime Policy Expert Commission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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