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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

  • 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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Notes

  1. 1.

    David H. Flaherty. Protecting Privacy in Surveillance Societies. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 4. 1989.

  2. 2.

    See Cecilia Magnusson Sjöberg. “Constitutional Rights and New Technologies in Sweden.” In Constitutional Rights and New Technologies: A Comparative Study, edited by R. Leenes et al. The Hague: T.M.C. Asser Press, 199–224, 2008

  3. 3.

    See Freedom of the Press Act (SFS 1949:105), Chapter 2, Article 2, and Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (SFS 2009:400), Chapter 35, Article 3, for current regulations.

  4. 4.

    Lars Ilshammar. Offentlighetens nya rum – Teknik och politik (Örebro: Universitetsbiblioteket, 2002).

  5. 5.

    Kenneth Burke. Permanence and Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984 [1935]); C. Wright Mills. “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive.” American Sociological Review 5, 6 (1940).

  6. 6.

    Angela Grier and Terry Thomas. “The Employment of Ex-Offenders and the UK’s New Criminal Record Bureau.” European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 9, 4 (2001); Terry Thomas Criminal Records: A Database for the Criminal Justice System and Beyond Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

  7. 7.

    Thomas, Criminal Records: A Database for the Criminal Justice System and Beyond, 7ff.

  8. 8.

    Bronwyn Naylor, Moira Paterson, and Marilyn Pittard. “In the Shadow of a Criminal Record: Proposing a Just Model of Criminal Record Employment Checks.” Melbourne University Law Review 32, 1 (2008); Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael A. Stoll. “Will Employers Hire Former Offenders? Employer Preferences, Background Checks, and Their Determinants.” In Imprisoning America: Employer Preferences, Background Checks, and Their Determinants, edited by M. Pattillo, D. F. Weiman, B. Western. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004; Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael, Michael A. Stoll. “The Effect of an Applicant’s Criminal History on Employer Hiring Decisions and Screening Practises: Evidence from Los Angeles.” In Barriers to Reentry? The Labor Market for Released Prisoners in Post-Industrial America, edited by S. Bushway, M. A. Stoll, D. F. Weiman New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007.

  9. 9.

    For examples of the critical approach, see Patricia M. Harris and Kimberly S. Keller. “Ex-Offenders Need Not Apply: The Criminal Background Check in Hiring Decisions.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21, 1 (2005); Helen Lam and Mark Harcourt. “The Use of Criminal Record in Employment Decisions: The Rights of Ex-Offenders, Employers and the Public.” Journal of Business Ethics 47, 3 (2003); Naylor, Paterson, Pittard. “In the Shadow of a Criminal Record: Proposing a Just Model of Criminal Record Employment Checks.” For examples of the more positive stance, see Mary L. Connerly, Richard D. Arvey, Charles J. Bernardy. “Criminal Background Checks for Prospective and Current Emploees: Current Practices among Municipal Agencies.” Public Personnel Management 30, 2 (2001); Agnes Lam and Brian H. Kleiner. “Criminal Background Checks of Prospective Employees: Why and How Should It Be Done?” Managerial Law 43, 1/2 (2001); Jund-Ming Wang Brian H. Kleiner. “Effective Employment Screening Practices.” Management Research News 23, 5/6 (2000).

  10. 10.

    Nancy Louks, Olwen Lyner, Tom Sullivan. “The Employment of People with Criminal Records in the European Union.” European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 6, 2 (1998).

  11. 11.

    Paul De Hert Serge Gutwirth. Privacy, “Data Protection Law and Law Enforcement: Opacity of the Individual and Transparency of Power.” In Privacy and the Criminal Law, edited by E. Claes, A. Duff, S. Gutwirth Antwerpen and Oxford: Intersentia, 2006.

  12. 12.

    Ibid., 70.

  13. 13.

    Lee A. Bygrave. “The Place of Privacy in Data Protection.” University of New South Wales Law Journal 24, 1 (2001).

  14. 14.

    Åsa Söderlind. Personlig integritet som informationspolitik Borås and Göteborg: Valfrid, 2009.

  15. 15.

    For an overview of definitions of privacy, see Bygrave. “The Place of Privacy in Data Protection.”

  16. 16.

    De Hert and Gutwirth. “Privacy, Data Protection Law and Law Enforcement: Opacity of the Individual and Transparency of Power.” 75.

  17. 17.

    Cf. Flaherty. Protecting Privacy in Surveillance Societies.

  18. 18.

    See, for example, Gøsta Esping-Andersen. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1990.

  19. 19.

    John Pratt. “Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part I: The Nature and Roots of Scandinavian Exceptionalism.” British Journal of Criminology 48, 2 (2008). and “Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part II: Does Scandinavian Exceptionalism Have a Future?” British Journal of Criminology 48, 3 (2008).

  20. 20.

    Robert Andersson. Kriminalpolitikens väsen. Stockholm: Stockholm University, Department of Criminology, 2002; Robert Andersson and Roddy Nilsson, Svensk kriminalpolitik Malmö: Liber, 2009; John Pratt and Anna Eriksson. “Den skandinaviska exceptionalismen i kriminalpolitiken.” Nordisk Tidsskrift for Kriminalvidenskab 96, 2 (2009).

  21. 21.

    Christian Häthén. Straffrättsvetenskap och kriminalpolitik. De europeiska straffteorierna och deras betydelse för svensk strafflagstiftning, 1906–1931. Lund: Lund University Press, 1990.

  22. 22.

    Christian Häthén. Stat och straff. Rättshistoriska perspektiv Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2004.

  23. 23.

    Lena Lexbro. “Konflikt eller konsensus? Kriminalpolitiken och riksdagen 19461965.” Nordisk Tidskrift for Kriminalvedenskab 87, 1 (2000); Henrik Tham. “From Treatment to Just Deserts in a Changing Welfare State.” In Beware of Punishment: On the Utility and Futility of Criminal Law. edited by A. Snare Oslo: Pax Forlag, 1995.

  24. 24.

    Cf. David Garland. The Culture of Control Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

  25. 25.

    Marie Demker and Göran Duus-Otterström. “Realigning Criminal Policy: Offender and Victim in the Swedish Party System over Time.” International Review of Sociology 19, 2 (2009); Tham, “From Treatment to Just Deserts in a Changing Welfare State.”

  26. 26.

    Andersson. Kriminalpolitikens väsen; Andersson and Nilsson. Svensk kriminalpolitik; Raimo Lahti. “Towards a Rational and Humane Criminal Policy: Trends in Scandinavian Penal Thinking.” Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention 1, 2 (2000).

  27. 27.

    Andersson. Kriminalpolitikens väsen; Demker and Duus-Otterström. “Realigning Criminal Policy: Offender and Victim in the Swedish Party System over Time.”

  28. 28.

    In the analysis, an inductive approach was used to identify the various thematic categories drawn upon in the discussion below.

  29. 29.

    Laurel Richardson. “Narrative and Sociology.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 19, 1 (1990): 128.

  30. 30.

    Bengt Larsson. “Auditor Regulation and Economic Crime Policy in Sweden, 1965–2000” Accounting, Organizations and Society 30, 2 (2005): 129.

  31. 31.

    The courts had a duty to inform parishes about all sentences. This information was used by the parish priest e.g. to rule who could and who could not receive Holy Communion. See Gösta Lext, Studier i svensk kyrkobokföring 1600–1946 (Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg, School of Business, Economics and Law, Department of Economic History, 1984), 210.

  32. 32.

    Commission Report, Förslag till förordning angående straffregister (Stockholm: Kungliga Boktryckeriet and P.A. Norstedt & söner, 1892), 24. All translations from the original Swedish mine.

  33. 33.

    Ibid., 62.

  34. 34.

    Ibid.

  35. 35.

    Ibid., 39.

  36. 36.

    The king’s power had gradually diminished following the new constitution of 1809, and the term ‘king’ was at this point used to refer to both the actual person of the king and his office.

  37. 37.

    Proposal 1899 No. 18, “Kongl. Maj:ts nådiga proposition till riksdagen med förslag till lag om straffregister; given Stockholms slott den 22 december 1899,” 14.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., 15.

  39. 39.

    Proposal 1963:39, “Kungl. Maj:ts proposition till riksdagen med förslag till lag om allmänt kriminalregister m.m.,” 54.

  40. 40.

    Ibid., 7.

  41. 41.

    Ilshammar, Offentlighetens nya rum – Teknik och politik; Sten Markgren, Datainspektionen och skyddet av den personliga identiteten (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1984); Söderlind, Personlig integritet som informationspolitik.

  42. 42.

    Swedish Government Official Reports, Enhetligt frihetsstraff (Stockholm: Department of Justice, SOU 1953:17).

  43. 43.

    Swedish Government Offical Reports, Den allmänna brottsregistreringen (Stockholm: Department of Justice, SOU 1961:11).

  44. 44.

    Proposal 1963:1939, “Kungl. Maj:ts proposition till riksdagen med förslag till lag om allmänt kriminalregister m.m.” 17.

  45. 45.

    Swedish Government Offical Reports, Den allmänna brottsregistreringen, SOU 1961:11.

  46. 46.

    Proposal 1963:1939, “Kungl. Maj:ts proposition till riksdagen med förslag till lag om allmänt kriminalregister m.m.” 45.

  47. 47.

    Ibid., 46. This kind of ‘practical reasoning’ has influenced the way in which the various issues have been dealt with at different conjunctions. For example, records of any fines were left out of the 1901 register, and not only because the information was deemed irrelevant to the courts, but also because including them would make the register too cumbersome and difficult to handle. The opposite approach was chosen in 1997 when all convictions, regardless of the type of punishment, were included; at this point, it was considered too demanding for the courts to have to sort out the sentences that should be registered in the system from those that should not. The impact of technological development and automated data processing is obvious here.

  48. 48.

    Ibid., 44.

  49. 49.

    Ibid.

  50. 50.

    Cf. Andersson and Nilsson, Svensk kriminalpolitik; Häthén, Stat och straff. Rättshistoriska perspektiv.

  51. 51.

    Proposal 1987/1988: 122, “Förslag till lag om ändring i lagen (1963: 197) om allmänt lriminalregister.”

  52. 52.

    Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (1981); Recommendation No. R (84) 10 on the Criminal Record and Rehabilitation of Convicted Persons; and Recommendation R (87) 15 regulating the use of personal data in the police sector.

  53. 53.

    Cf. Swedish Government Offical Reports. Offentlighet och sekretess Stockholm: Department of Justice, SOU 1966: 60 and Data och integritet Stockholm: Department of Justice, SOU 1972: 47.

  54. 54.

    Proposal 1979/1980: 2, Förslag till ny sekretesslag.

  55. 55.

    Ministry Publication Series, Lag om brottsregister m.m. (Stockholm: Department of Justice, Ds Ju 1985: 8); Ministry Publications Series, De registrerades rätt till insyn i kriminal- och polisregistren (Stockholm: Department of Justice, Ds Ju 1981: 6); Department of Justice, “Promemoria 5 of February” (Record Number Dnr 301–380, 1980).

  56. 56.

    Proposal 1987/1988: 122, “Förslag till lag om ändring i lagen (1963: 197) om allmänt kriminalregister,” 13.

  57. 57.

    Proposal 1997/1998: 97, “Polisens register.”

  58. 58.

    Proposal 1987/1988:122, “Förslag till lag om ändring i lagen (1963: 197) om allmänt kriminalregister,” 17.

  59. 59.

    Ibid.

  60. 60.

    Regulating subject access on a general level had been part of the Swedish legislation since the enactment of the country’s first Data Act in 1973. In case of contradiction with other laws, however, such as the criminal records legislation that did not permit individuals to access their personal data, the provisions of the latter nonetheless prevailed.

  61. 61.

    Proposal 1987/1988: 122, “Förslag till lag om ändring i lagen (1963: 197) om allmänt kriminalregister,” 18.

  62. 62.

    Ibid., 20.

  63. 63.

    Department of Justice, “Promemoria 5 of February.”

  64. 64.

    Proposal 1987/1988: 122, “Förslag till lag om ändring i lagen (1963: 197) om allmänt kriminalregister,” 20.

  65. 65.

    Ibid., 18.

  66. 66.

    Andersson, Kriminalpolitikens väsen; Colin J. Bennett. The Privacy Advocates. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008.

  67. 67.

    Ministry Publications Series. De registrerades rätt till insyn i kriminal- och polisregistren.

  68. 68.

    Proposal 1997/1998: 97, “Polisens register.”

  69. 69.

    Recommendation R (87) 15 regulating the use of personal data in the police sector.

  70. 70.

    Council Act of 26 July 1995 drawing up the Convention on the establishment of a European Police Office.

  71. 71.

    Proposal 1997/1998: 97, “Polisens register,” 44f.

  72. 72.

    Demker and Duus-Otterström, “Realigning Criminal Policy: Offender and Victim in the Swedish Party System over Time.”

  73. 73.

    The National Police Board, “Framställning om en översyn av den enskildes rätt att ta del av uppgifter om sig själv i belastningsregistret” (The National Police Board, Legal Secretariat, record number RÄS 442-3960/04, 2004).

  74. 74.

    Ibid.; Swedish Government Official Reports, Polisens register. Slutbetänkande (Stockholm: Fritze, SOU 1997: 65); Swedish Government Official Reports, Integritetsskydd i arbetslivet (Stockholm: Fritzes, SOU 2009: 44).

  75. 75.

    Terms of Reference, “Personlig integritet i arbetslivet” (Dir. 2006: 55).

  76. 76.

    Swedish Government Official Reports, Integritetsskydd i arbetslivet, SOU 2009: 44.

  77. 77.

    Terms of Reference, “Personlig integritet i arbetslivet.” Dir. 2006: 55

  78. 78.

    Swedish Government Official Reports, Integritetsskydd i arbetslivet, SOU 2009: 44, 275.

  79. 79.

    Ibid., 281.

  80. 80.

    Ibid.

  81. 81.

    Ibid., 279.

  82. 82.

    Ibid., 280.

  83. 83.

    Proposal 2009/2010: 191, Gallring ur belastningsregistret av ippgifter om unga lagöverträdare.

  84. 84.

    Preliminary Report of the Parliament Proceedings. “Onsdagen den 19 maj, kl 09.00–16.37”, 2009/2010: 121.

  85. 85.

    Demker and Duus-Otterström, “Realigning Criminal Policy: Offender and Victim in the Swedish Party System over Time.”

  86. 86.

    The proposals put forth by the expert commission have been referred for consideration to relevant bodies. The deadline for comments and feedback has expired but, at the time of this writing (September 2010), no proposals have come from the government yet.

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Backman, C. (2011). Regulating Privacy: Vocabularies of Motive in Legislating Right of Access to Criminal Records in Sweden. In: Gutwirth, S., Poullet, Y., De Hert, P., Leenes, R. (eds) Computers, Privacy and Data Protection: an Element of Choice. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0641-5_6

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