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Site lets Swedes snoop on friends' criminal past

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File photo: Dirigentens/Flickr
10:11 CET+01:00
A new Swedish website that lets people check out their neighbours' criminal records has privacy experts up in arms, warning the site could breach the country's privacy and slander laws.

The new Lexbase.se service allows people in Sweden to look up a friend's, colleague's or neighbour's criminal record, and to get an overview of their neighbourhood, with red dots signaling the presence of convicted criminals on a map.

The service has defended its new product as an extension of Sweden's right to public information law, but critics said on Monday that it may breach not only privacy laws, but also legislation on slander.

"I think the business idea is dead in the water," law professor Mårten Schultz told the TT news agency. "It sounds like it contravenes the personal information law and will be taken down."

Lexbase.se spokesman, lawyer Pontus Ljunggren, said the service was in line with the times and suits Swedes' desire for information. He argued that the website could help women on the dating scene, as they might want to know if their prospective date had any previous convicts for rape or assault.

"The underlying idea with the right to information act (Offentlighetsprincipen) is that transparency is a good thing. We are just making it more modern," he told TT.

Ljunggren added that the company could not take responsibility for how information on site was used.

"It can, just like anything else, be abused. But we can't take responsibility for what people do. They can get the same information from their local district court," Ljungman said.

On Monday, the site was temporarily offline due to a flood of traffic.

Lawyer Johan Åberg, who specializes in libel and slander cases, said how people use the information from Lexbase was relevant.

"If my neighbour has five convictions and I download the verdicts and then canvas the neighbourhood to tell people, I could be guilty of slander," Åberg told TT. 

The issues of privacy and right to information are not new in Sweden. In 2009, authorities moved to close down a website where parents swapped information about convicted rapists and sex offenders, in particular crimes involving minors.

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"We consider the publication to be a serious breach of privacy laws. That is why we are now reporting the site to the police," said Data Inspection Board (Datainspektionen) head Göran Gräslund said at the time.

Legal experts have outlined fear that the spread of such information could spark vigilante or mob justice.

"In a democracy it is of great interest that the state retains a monopoly on the administration of justice and that there is not some form of private punishment," said retired state prosecutor Sven-Erik Alheim to Crime News.

Schultz, meanwhile, said that services such as Lexbase illustrated the ease of spreading information. 
 
"There have been discussions all the way up to the European level about the fact that the internet makes it so cheap to store this kind of data," he told TT. "The right to information law was not meant to work this way." 

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