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Openness, Privacy and the Archive: Arguments on openness and privacy in Swedish national archival regulation 1987–2004
Jönköping University, School of Engineering, JTH, Industrial Engineering and Management.
2016 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates how the balance was drawn between openness/the principle of public access to official documents, and privacy/personal integrity. The empirical material consists of legal texts on Swedish national archival regulation 1987–2004, and a “linguistic-historical analysis” was applied to answer research questions related to the scope of documents to archive, and to benefits and drawbacks of openness and privacy respectively.

The Archival Law of 1990 is aligned with the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act – celebrating 250 years in 2016 – through the term “official documents”. Such documents, whether containing personal data or not, are accessible to everyone unless protected by secrecy regulation. The Archival Law and the Freedom of the Press Act thus have potentially far-reaching effects on privacy, although this aspect has received considerably less attention than the impact on openness. Exploring the development of the Swedish archival regulation is therefore of great interest.

The study shows that the scope of documents to archive was made gradually larger during the period. This happened through the transfer from “archival material” to “official document”, and through the increasingly emphasised presumption for preservation of documents. As a result of this development, the principle of public access and, more specifically, the archives, were described as invaluable to democratic government. The linguistic analysis shows that the meaning of “the principle of public access to official documents” (offentlighetsprincipen) changed over time, implicating that the meaning must not be taken for granted.

Benefits and drawbacks related to openness and privacy were identified in Swedish and international archival science research and compared to those in the empirical material. Arguments in the material were mainly oriented towards positive aspects of openness. Benefits of privacy as being vital for democracy were entirely absent. With one exception, in-depth discussions on drawbacks of openness and privacy were also absent.

The short answer to the issue of balance between openness and privacy in Swedish archival regulation 1987–2004 is that very few attempts were made to strike such a balance. Theories proposed by various researchers – the centurylong tradition of openness in Sweden, the difficulty to introduce privacy legislation “in a country where publicity has reigned supreme”, and a view of democracy as based on the community rather than on the individual – may help explain this situation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Huddinge: Södertörns Högskola, 2016. , 41 p.
, Working Paper, ISSN 1404-1480 ; 2016:4
Keyword [en]
Right of information, freedom of information, openness, principle of public access to official documents, privacy, integrity, archival law, democracy
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:hj:diva-31820OAI: diva2:972551

The study was made as part of a project financed by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), “Privacy, the hidden aspect of Swedish democracy. A legal and historical investigation about balancing openness and privacy in Sweden”, nr 2015-1057.

Available from: 2016-09-21 Created: 2016-09-21 Last updated: 2016-09-21Bibliographically approved

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Rosengren, Anna
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