New Government Commission protection privacy

10 January 2006

Henrik Nilsson

The Swedish Minister for Employment, Mr Hans Karlsson, has stated in recent interviews that he will set up a Commission early in 2006 to prepare a proposal for legislation to safeguard privacy in the workplace. Having waited a long time for expected EU initiatives in this area, Mr Karlsson expressed frustration at the lack of action on a European level on this issue and declared a need for Sweden to progress independently within the area open to national decision making.

Mr Karlsson gave examples such as the question of an employer’s right of access to employees’ e-mails sent and received from a work e-mail system, and of widening demands from employers to jobseekers to provide details about any criminal records. Mr Karlsson envisages legislation that would set out the specific rights of employees regarding integrity. From his remarks, it is expected that the Commission will be granted a relatively short period of time for its work, perhaps less than a year.

This issue was last investigated by a special Government Commission as recently as March 2002, when a report with a proposal for a new “Law on the protection of personal integrity in working life” was delivered to the then Minister of Employment. This report by the Commission on Integrity, headed by a previous Cabinet Minister who had also been a top judge, had come to the conclusion that there was no acceptable, legally binding protection of the personal integrity of employees and, in its opinion, new legislation was necessary.

The 2002 report proposed banning employers from accessing an employee’s private e-mail or digital files, except with the employee’s consent, and with certain work and security related exceptions. The report also proposed restricting employers’ treatment of information relating to employees’ health, drug usages, aptitude and personality tests, criminal records and law enforcement contacts. The report was, however, widely criticised when subject to a consultation, and has not led to any legislation. One point of criticism was aimed at the proposal that many or most of the suggested restrictions on employers could be relaxed with the employees’ consent, which was perceived to undermine the impact of the proposed legislation.

In addition to the proposed new Commission, there is already a Commission sitting, whose responsibilty is to provide a general overview of privacy issues in Sweden, and to propose such legislation as it deems necessary. This Committee, led by the Chief Legal Officer of the Department of Justice, will deliver its report by the end of March 2007.

It is interesting to note that the same Government which intends to increase protection of privacy in the workplace has, during the last few years, produced some twenty reports and legislative proposals with the aim of increasing the scope for legal surveillance and investigation through (amongst other things): interception of communications; electronic “bugging” with hidden microphones and computers; the use of CCTV in public places; taking DNA samples from suspects and even crime victims and witnesses. It would appear that the workplace may become a refuge for personal integrity in Sweden.

Henrik Nilsson, Bird & Bird, Stockholm
5 January 2006