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.
“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.