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Sweden looks to ban pics taken by Peeping Toms

TT/David Landes · 24 Jan 2011, 00:00

Published: 24 Jan 2011 15:30 GMT+01:00
Updated: 24 Jan 2011 00:00 GMT+01:00

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In a memo from submitted on Monday, the Ministry of Justice wants to add "unauthorised photographing" to the Swedish criminal code.

"What we're trying to do is come up with laws that make it illegal to take pictures that are clearly meant to be insulting and violate a person's privacy without criminalizing pictures taken around the table at a dinner party, for example," justice ministry spokesman Martin Valfridsson told The Local.

In the wake of several cases in which people were photographed without their knowledge in locker room showers and department store changing rooms, justice ministry officials have been wrestling with a workable formulation for legislation to prohibit the practice since 2008.

But the original proposal only covered pictures taken in people's homes, and after a flood of negative comments, the ministry decided to rework the proposal entirely.

Under the new proposal, people would be punished with fines or up to a year in prison for taking pictures that "constitute an intrusion in the private sphere which individuals ought to be guaranteed against other individuals."

Furthermore, the new statute would outlaw picture taking that "irrespective of place, occurs in a way which is obtrusive, intrusive, or hidden and that is meant to be a serious violation of a person's privacy as an individual."

According to Valfridsson, the new proposal also covers public toilets, department store fitting rooms, and locker rooms at public pools and gyms.

"The new proposal has a more narrow definition of what is considered insulting, but also has an expanded definition of where the law can be applied. It's not just in someone’s home, but also in a public toilet, for example," he said.

However, the proposal also takes the work of journalists into account, providing an exception to the prohibition of photographing people in sensitive situations if a reporter is trying to show that a public figure is doing something inappropriate.

Despite the exemption, the chair of Sweden's main journalists union, Journalistförbundet, slammed the new proposal, arguing it risked putting restrictions on working journalists.

"The proposal is sloppy and poorly defined, which is bad when it actually deals with freedom of speech, which is one of our core values," Agneta Lindblom Hulthén told the TT news agency.

"Instead of mauling our constitutional principle of free speech, we should instead stand up for them since they give us both the best insight and have worked well for a few hundred years," she added.

Lindblom Hulthén cited two recent examples of high-impact pictures taken by journalists without the knowledge of the people in the pictures.

They included the 2008 picture of Ulrika Schenström, a close advisor to Prime Minister Fredik Reinfeldt, kissing TV4 political reporter Anders Pihlblad in a bar and a picture taken through the office window of new Moderate Party secretary Sofia Arkelsten showing her in tears following criticism of her sponsored trips.

She fears that the new law could have put the photographers and legally shaky ground in both instances, adding that concern over being accused of criminal activity may give photojournalists pause when out in the field.

Story continues below…

"Out in a stressful news environment, he or she would have to decide on the spot whether it's justified to take a photograph. If they are unsure, maybe they would rather hold off," she said.

However, Valfridsson didn't believe the new proposal would cause problems for journalists.

"The new proposal aims to give journalists wide latitude in arguing their pictures are defensible," he said.

While Sweden's courts would be the ultimate arbiters of what sort of pictures are defensible under the new statute, expected to come into effect in October, Valfridsson argued that other laws designed to protect press freedoms would likely protect working journalists from legal challenges lodged by the subjects of pictures taken undercover.

"I doubt that a journalist would end up in court," said Valfridsson.

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:34 January 24, 2011 by Bender B Rodriquez
To be fair, it is already illegal to have any kind of surveillance without people's knowledge. Also, public toilets and changing rooms require signs informing people as well as approval from Länstyrelsen.

It seems like Beatrice Ask does not know the current law...
11:56 January 24, 2011 by muckfuslims
What about vandals in the neighborhoods and inner cities damaging property, or terrorist activities, Could they be filmed while breaking the law for proof to authorities, or can the criminals sue for invasion of privacy/

It's like witnessing a UFO or as seen in the comedy skits on TV, the talking dog theory, when no one is around, the dogs talks, then when you tell someone about it, theres no proof, unless it was filmed. lol
12:18 January 24, 2011 by Streja
Bender, that's not the issue. We're talking about guys, yes guys, and disgusting men who take pictures of girls and women in changing rooms, showers and toilets without them knowing.

There have been instances where some men have installed cameras in their ex-girlfriends' showers and could not be sentenced to anything as that is perfectly ok legally.
12:44 January 24, 2011 by byke
Isnt this just a law disguised as "peeping tom" when in fact it will be used for persons to ensure that if unwanted material (video, pictures, audio) etc can be immediately banned if those who are accused of releasing material that does about a person doesnt have clearance (such as wikileaks, news teams secretly documenting corruption for exposure etc ...)
15:35 January 24, 2011 by Swedesmith
If the intent of the law is to make it illegal for perverts to take potty pictures, then I'm all for it.
16:34 January 24, 2011 by Jools33
The intent of the law is one thing - but the potential application an entire other thing. What the journalist are complaining about is that it will potentially create a legal minefield for their photographers - and the end result will mean that photographers simply won't risk incriminating themselves - and so they won't shoot that shot. Which could result in less open reporting,
16:52 January 24, 2011 by GLO
Wow !!! really this a big deal....Hey !!!! the world has serious problem and this crap is a problem....NUTS
16:53 January 24, 2011 by Swedesmith
I agree that the application of said law could cause problems. Therefore, the law should be written in very specific laguage to apply only to the "peeping toms."
16:56 January 24, 2011 by Liquidmonkey
i don't see how this law "would put professional photographers on shackey legal ground"?

unless of course those pro photographers are taking pics of chicks on the toilet.
18:11 January 24, 2011 by Elias06

when i read your comment i understand your nickname and all what goes with
19:23 January 24, 2011 by Tanskalainen
@Streja Could you move that coat hanger a little to the left Sweetness? It's blocking the lens.
19:40 January 24, 2011 by locaxy
Oh boy! So now only the government can take pictures. If I take a video of a cop harassing me at my home, I am liable under this law. But if the government uses video surveillance to know my whereabouts, it's suddenly OK.

Anyway...I urge everybody to put disclaimers in their private residences (e.g. By entering these premises, you agree to have your picture taken). Let the legislative a$$hats deal preemptive EULA-style contracts.
20:33 January 24, 2011 by JulieLou40
Poor girl has forgotten to pull her skirt up before sitting down.
21:03 January 24, 2011 by Southerner Up North
I think she was indimidated by the photographer in the cubicle with her?
21:12 January 24, 2011 by krattan
I understand the intention of the suggested law. But my conviction is that Sweden needs less regulation, less bureaucrats, simply simpler living. Are there ever a calculation of the presumed cost of these petty laws? how many people does the government have to employ to upheld this and regulation about other small matters. How many needless court hearings? How much will it cost the tax payers? I can only imagine.
21:14 January 24, 2011 by wxman
Not only that, JulieLou, I don't know any women who sit down with the seat up. Not more than once, anyway! Brrrr.
21:22 January 24, 2011 by Tanskalainen
It's okay, she's Russian.
21:40 January 24, 2011 by Swedesmith
Hey, maybe she was just getting a drink.
01:44 January 25, 2011 by VicTaulic
Could we see more pictures of this criminal activity?
05:55 January 25, 2011 by volvoman9
Damn Damn and double Damn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
07:08 January 25, 2011 by mkvgtired
Streja, men are not the only people trying to sneak a peak. I was at the gym the other day and caught a middle aged woman trying to peak up my shorts while I was stretching. But I guess your feminism has brainwashed you into thinking only men think about sex. That being said believe it or not most men dont take pictures of women in the bathroom and actually believe its wrong.
17:06 January 25, 2011 by Swedesmith
As a male, I can unequivocally state that I do not spend all of my time thinking about sex. Sometimes I think about food.
15:27 January 28, 2011 by tadchem
It would appear the only difference between a 'journalist' and a 'stalker' is a publisher.
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