Sweden’s garbage spies breaking data laws

They were candidates for Sweden's ultimate busybodies - but 'garbage spies' who have been photographing with digital cameras people who incorrectly recycle their rubbish have been told that they are breaking the law.

Now the practice must stop, according to the Swedish Data Inspection Board.

Sweden’s personal data law says that only state authorities are allowed to handle personal information digitally when it comes to breaking the law.

The company which organises the collection and sorting of garbage for recycling, FTI, has been ordered to stop snapping careless recyclers and processing information about them.

FTI manages some 6,000 recycling points across the country. But every year the company spends many millions of kronor sorting out items which have been placed in the wrong green container, or which should never have been submitted for recycling at all.

To reduce the cost, FTI employed people to watch over the stations and equipped them with digital cameras so they could present evidence against the miscreants.

But the Data Inspection Board’s decision, signed by general director Göran Gräslund, made clear that there could be no exceptions from the law.

The collection firm says it will now appeal against the decision in Stockholm district court. Managing director John Strand said that the board has changed its interpretation of the law – since FTI had discussed the matter with the board before implementing the method.

“It’s surprising that the board has now changed its mind. And why couldn’t they just contact us and ask us to use old-fashioned photo equipment?” asked Strand.

“That’s what we’ll do now, and then we’ll write our reports about environmental crimes on a typewriter.”