The site, sexoffender.nu, was launched several months ago and has since served as a sort of web-based sex offender registry.
Anyone visiting the site can access personal information about those convicted of sex crimes in Sweden, as well as find copies of court rulings and maps showing where the sex offenders currently live.
The Data Inspection Board (Datainspektionen), an agency charged with safeguarding Sweden’s privacy laws, has received ten complaints about the site, prompting it to launch an investigation, reports the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.
“Those who have contacted us are mostly relatives of the people who’ve been exposed. There is now a supervisory order against the site; we’re going to analyze the publication and see if it violates the personal information law,” said the inspection board’s Jonas Agnvall to SvD.
The law, known in English as the Personal Data Act, came into force in 1998 and is designed to protect people against violations of their personal privacy stemming from the handling of their personal information.
But the case of sexoffender.nu presents a difficult challenge for the Data Inspection Board because the legislation remains vague when it comes to what is covered under the privacy law versus what may be considered journalistic work, which isn’t covered by the law.
“If such information had been published in a newspaper, the Press Ombudsman would have acted straight away. There is no such authority when it comes to things published on the internet,” Data Inspection Board head Göran Gräslund told the newspaper.
Sweden’s Press Ombudsman is in charge of pursuing cases in which newspapers have been accused of publishing inaccurate or libelous information.
According to Stockholm University’s Daniel Westman, an expert in IT-law, the publication of sex offenders’ personal information could be classified as defamation.
“The legislation not only covers instances when the information is false, but also when the information is offensive. Criminal judgments for those who have already served their sentences can’t be seen to be in the public’s interest. I think that publishing the home address of someone who has served their sentence is clearly over the line,” he said.
Should the Data Inspection Board eventually find sexoffender.nu in violation of Sweden’s privacy laws, it still may have a hard time shutting down the site.
“We may not be able to discern who is behind it or the servers may be out of the country,” said Agnvall.