Openness, Privacy and the Archive

Arguments on Openness and Privacy in Swedish National Archival Regulation 1987–2004

Omslag för Openness, Privacy and the Archive: Arguments on Openness and Privacy in Swedish National Archival Regulation 1987–2004

Rosengren, Anna

This study investigates how the balance was drawn between openness/the principle of public access to official documents, and privacy/perso­nal integrity. The empirical material consists of legal texts on Swedish national archival regulation 1987–2004, and a “linguistic-historical analysis” was applied to answer re­search questions re­lated to the scope of documents to archive, and to bene­fits and drawbacks of open­ness and privacy respectively.

The Archival Law of 1990 is aligned with the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act – celebrating 250 years in 2016 – through the term “official docu­ments”. Such documents, whether containing personal data or not, are accessible to every­one unless protected by secrecy regulation. The Archival Law and the Free­dom of the Press Act thus have potentially far-reaching effects on privacy, although this aspect has received considerably less attention than the impact on openness. Exploring the development of the Swedish archival regulation is there­fore of great interest.

The study shows that the scope of documents to archive was made grad­ually larger during the period. This happened through the transfer from “archival material” to “official document”, and through the increas­ing­ly empha­­sised pre­sumption for preservation of documents. As a result of this develop­ment, the principle of pub­lic access and, more specifically, the archives, were described as invaluable to demo­cratic government. The lin­guis­tic analysis shows that the meaning of “the principle of public access to official documents” (offentlighets­principen) changed over time, implicating that the meaning must not be taken for granted.

Benefits and drawbacks related to openness and privacy were identified in Swedish and international archival science research and compared to those in the empirical material. Arguments in the material were mainly oriented to­wards positive aspects of openness. Benefits of privacy as being vital for demo­cracy were entirely absent. With one exception, in-depth discussions on draw­backs of openness and privacy were also absent.

The short answer to the issue of balance between openness and privacy in Swedish archival regulation 1987–2004 is that very few attempts were made to strike such a balance. Theories proposed by various researchers – the century-long tradition of openness in Sweden, the difficulty to introduce privacy legis­lation “in a country where publicity has reigned supreme”, and a view of demo­cracy as based on the community rather than on the individual – may help explain this situation.

Huddinge : Södertörns högskola, 2016. 41 sidor.

Serie: Working Paper, 1404-1480 ; 2016:4