Housing company’s blacklist “illegal”

"Black with a French accent", "probably mentally ill", "Bosnian gypsy". These are some examples of the kind of discriminatory comments about tenants and prospective tenants contained in e-mails exchanged and filed by staff at Malmö's council-owned housing company, MKB. The Swedish Data Inspection Board (DIB) have now ruled that the keeping of such information is illegal. But it's unclear whether anyone will be prosecuted.

The investigation was carried out by the DIB’s director general, Göran Gräslund, who told Sydsvenskan:

“MKB don’t dispute that they’ve made use of some of the information mentioned in the press. Their own statements to us have provided some of the basis for our conclusion that their data management is not in accordance with the data protection act.”

The DIB ruling establishes that it can never be justified to use expressions such as “Black with a French accent”.

The DIB also stated that information on individuals’ mental health or substance abuse should be restricted to factual events and only if it’s necessary “for example, in an eviction case”.

A month ago, Malmö newspaper, Sydsvenskan, revealed that MKB staff had collected confidential and offensive information on thousands of tenants, applicants for flats and members of the public. Allegedly, informal information exchanges with Malmö police officers were common.

The data protection act states that only public authorities can keep information on individuals’ criminality.

The paper also claims that victims of domestic violence were ‘blacklisted’ as the abusers could come to a victim’s flat and damage property or disturb neighbours.

However, it’s not certain whether any prosecutions in the MKB case will follow. Prosecutor, Mats Svensson, has read the ruling but requires more guidance from the DIB. Currently, the incriminating evidence consists of two files marked “Warnings A-K and L-Ö” containing print outs from e-mails. Svensson is not certain whether the files represent a register or database according to the legislation.

About 300 worried tenants have contacted MKB to find out if they are on the company’s so-called ‘blacklist’. However, they will not get a full answer, although organisations holding data on individuals are obliged to reveal that data in full on request.

That’s because all sensitive e-mails have been deleted. MKB’s chief executive, Lars Brive, told Sydsvenskan:

“Every department, every member of staff and manager has gone through their e-mails. I assume that they’ve deleted anything inappropriate which could get into the wrong hands. If the DIB want to get hold of them, they can because they’re only recently deleted. We have no objections. It would be best if the prosecutor came and had a look so that we can clear this up as quickly as possible.”

Brive considered that the DIB’s ruling was “balanced and reasonable” and recognised that housing companies need to handle sensitive information on individuals. He called for industry guidelines to help housing companies manage confidential information.