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Ten secrets you can't keep in Sweden

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Ten secrets you can't keep in Sweden
Information considered deeply personal in other countries is just a call or a click away in Sweden. Photo: DGLImages/Depositphotos
06:59 CET+01:00
Swedes have a reputation for being private people: newcomers are often warned to make generous allowances for personal space, and the rules around installing CCTV are much tougher, for example. It might seem paradoxical then that many details you might consider to be deeply personal, from age to salary to your home address, are easily available to anyone who goes through the right process.

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This is because of Sweden's 'offentlighetsprincipen' or 'principle of openness', part of the country's famed press freedom law. All public records have to be preserved and made accessible to anyone who asks – and often you don't even need to say who you are or give a reason for the request – unless they fall under secrecy regulations.

The aim of this is to boost transparency within the society, facilitating greater equality and legality. Here's a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of the things you can't keep secret in Sweden.

Personal number

Your personal number is the ten-digit code that's the key to life in Sweden. You use it for everything from setting up a bank account to a gym membership, and if you know someone else's, you can find out a lot about them.

It's simple to get hold of it by calling up the Tax Agency (Skatteverket), and giving the name of the person you're trying to identify. If it's an unusual name, this on its own might be enough, but otherwise you'll need some additional information such as the approximate year of birth and/or their town of residence to narrow down the search. The more information you already know about someone, the more certain you can be of getting the right details.

These requests have to be made over the phone or by visiting the Tax Agency in person, not via e-mail, and the only case in which they won't be possible is if the person you're looking for has a protected identity.

Another alternative is trying the unofficial route by going through a site such as Ratsit or Upplysning, where members get access to these public records without having to contact the authorities yourself.

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You're only an e-mail or a phonecall away from lots of information considered sensitive in other countries. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

Age

Since the first six digits of your personal number are your date of birth, it's almost impossible to conceal your age in Sweden.

Many websites such as Hitta, Eniro or Birthday.se publish this information, meaning you can find out how old someone is without having to go through the Tax Agency at all.

Relationship status 

To find out if someone is married or divorced, you can contact the Tax Agency (Skatteverket) in order to get the information from the Swedish Marriage Register. You'd need either their person number (which you can access from the Population Register via the Tax Agency) or, if the marriage took place before 1972, their personal number and full name.

The Tax Agency also keeps records of pre-nuptial agreements in the Marriage Register, which are also publicly available. Again, for marriages and agreements registered before 1972, the full name and personal number of both parties are required.

Address and phone number

Several websites store addresses – usually including the exact apartment number. These include Hitta, Eniro, Ratsit, and Birthday, all of which you can use without having to pay or register, either by simply searching, texting or phoning. Available information includes the first six digits of personal numbers (in other words, date of birth), registered address, and telephone number.

You won't be able to find everyone's phone number though, as it depends on whether it's registered to the same address and personal number, so phones issued by a company won't be recorded. This also causes discrepancies as an under-18-year-old's phone number might be registered to their parent's personal number, for example.

Address requests can also be made directly to the Tax Agency, which will send you the address by fax if you know the personal number of the person you're looking for. It's possible to make up to eight requests at a time and receive the information within 15 minutes.

And the State's Population Address Register is another place that keeps a record of people's names, addresses, and phone numbers, updated daily.


Apartment buildings in Stockholm. Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

Family members and neighbours

The Tax Agency has records of your family ties, and by providing the personal number (or an unusual name and place combination) of one person, it's possible to find out who someone's parents (or legal guardian) and/or children are.

The same agency, using the Marriage Register, has a record of people sharing accommodation.

And both Eniro and Hitta provide the names and details of neighbours, so if you know one person's name and address, you can easily find out who lives in the surrounding apartments or houses.


Malmo. Photo: Aline Lessner/imagebank.sweden.se

Income

You can't find out exactly how much someone is making, but you can contact the Tax Agency to learn their taxable income, and do some calculations to get a rough idea. Again, you can phone or visit the tax office in person, and will receive the information by fax or mail, though it's only possible to make inquiries into five people at one time.

There are also a few ways to find out someone's employer. The National Government Employee Pensions Board (SPV) keeps records of those employed in public sector jobs, while the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) has the relevant information for private sector workers. These records include a lot of information, such as any benefits received, sickness or severance pay.


Co-workers pictured in a Swedish office. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Property 

The Swedish Land Registration Authority keeps a record of property ownership, and by contacting their customer services, you can request information about a specific property, if you know either the address or property reference (this is a unique number designated to each property which is different from the street address). Alternatively, if you know the personal number or company reference number of the person or company whose property records you're looking for, you would need to contact the Registry Clerk to get the information.

It's usually possible to access copies of property deeds as long as this doesn't contravene any other part of Sweden's privacy laws, for example if the person in question has a protected identity. The registries also record previous owners, area (both the 'living area' or space in the property itself, and total area including outdoor space), taxable value, mortgage, and more details.

Car ownership

If you know a car registration number, you can find out who owns it by contacting the traffic agency, simply by sending a text to the Transport Angency (Transportstyrelsen) for a cost of three kronor, or by calling up the agency and using the keyword 'ägaruppgifter' (owner information). This is useful if someone's in your parking space, for example, as you can quickly find out who the perpetrator is, and you can get additional information such as the car's last three owners, whether tax has been paid on the vehicle, and whether it is up to date with its MOT.

You can contact the same authority to find out about ownership of other vehicles too, including boats, although not all boats for recreational use are registered, and those under five metres in length never are. But for those which are included in the Ship Register, you can find out their weight, size, year and place of construction.

University grades

No one will notice if you embellish your university results on your CV, right? In Sweden, wrong. Anyone can call up a university office and ask for someone else's results. 

If you don't know where they studied, it's possible to find out by contacting The Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet) or the Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN) if they applied for funding for their university studies.


Stockholm University campus. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

Debts

If the debts are owed to Skatteverket, that's the agency to turn to in order to find out. All you need to know is the personal number or company number.

The Swedish Enforcement Agency (Kronofogden) is responsible for the collection of unpaid debts as well as collecting civil or criminal fines, and its possible to search their register to find out if someone has a record of debt. 

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