Back

Ending the unjustified storage of private information by security services

Segerstedt-Wiberg and Others v. Sweden  | 2006

Ending the unjustified storage of private information by security services

This shows what we and many others in Sweden have said: you can’t keep recording in this way.

Bengt Frejd, as reported by SVT

Background

Five Swedes were watched by the Swedish secret services due to their political activities. Per Nygren, a journalist at the Gothenburg Post, had written several articles on Nazism and on the secret service. Ingrid Segerstedt-Wiberg was a prominent human rights activist. Bengt Frejd, Staffan Ehnebom and former European Parliamentarian Herman Schmid had been active on the political left in the 1960s and 70s.

All five complained that material about them was still being held by the security services. Some information had also been shared between public bodies. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The court ruled that the government‘s continued storage of personal surveillance information about Mr Ehnebom, Mr Nygren, Mr Frejd and Mr Schmid had not been justified. The material related to historical political activities, many of which had occurred over 30 years beforehand. The storage of the information had been disproportionate and had violated the applicants’ right to privacy.

Keeping certain information on Ingrid Segerstedt-Wiberg had been justified, to protect her against a threat to her life. However, she and the other four applicants had not been able to challenge other unjustified storage of information – in violation of their basic rights. 

While the court recognises that intelligence services may legitimately exist in a democratic society, it reiterates that powers of secret surveillance of citizens are tolerable under the convention only in so far as strictly necessary

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, 6th June 2006

Follow-up

A control agency was created in 2008. People can use this to discover whether they have been the subject of secret surveillance or the processing of personal data. They can also ask for information obtained by the government to be corrected or deleted.

In 2012 a new Police Law introduced regulations on data processing by the police and the Security Service.

All information about the applicants was deleted from the records of the Swedish Security Service.

Additional information


Related examples

Privacy reforms after retired couple had their phone tapped

Jacques and Janine Huvig were a retired couple who had run a fruit-and-vegetable business. Police tapped their phone and listened to their conversations. At the time, investigators had almost limitless powers to tap the phones of almost anyone for almost any reason. The European court ruled that there must be clear legal limits and safeguards to protect people’s privacy – leading to a change in...

Read more

Excessive police operation against journalists leads to reforms to protect media sources

Four Belgian journalists were targeted by the police in a huge search and seizure operation aimed at identifying the source of leaked government information. The Strasbourg court ruled that the operation had been unjustified and disproportionate. The case influenced new legislation to improve protections for journalists and their sources.

Read more

Secret filming of a child in a bathroom and the reform of privacy laws

Eliza Söderman was 14 when she found out that her stepfather had hidden a secret camera to record her undressing. The police got involved, but the stepfather was cleared of any crime because his actions had not been illegal under Swedish law. The Strasbourg court found that this violated Ms Söderman’s right to privacy. The case highlighted the need for legal reforms.

Read more

DNA records of innocent people destroyed after privacy complaint

Two men from Sheffield had DNA samples taken by the police. Criminal charges against them were dropped. However, under British law the police could retain their DNA forever. The Strasbourg court ruled that keeping DNA records of innocent people breached their right to privacy.

Read more

Limits on government surveillance and the right to access information

R.V. was a postman. Along with 200 others, he was put under secret surveillance by security services – allegedly for being part of the Peace Movement. The European Commission for Human Rights found that Dutch law had not properly protected the applicants, violating their right to privacy. A new law was passed to clearly set out the circumstances and conditions in which secret surveillance can...

Read more

CCTV footage of suicide attempt used for publicity

A local authority’s CCTV cameras recorded a man attempting suicide. The local authority released the pictures to the media, after which they appeared in newspapers and on television. The Strasbourg Court ruled that the release of the images had been an unnecessary violation of the man’s privacy.

Read more

Privacy laws strengthened after a lawyer’s phone calls were intercepted

The authorities tapped the telephone of lawyer Hans Kopp and listened to confidential conversations. The Strasbourg court ruled that Swiss law had not properly limited the interception of confidential communications by the authorities. This violated Mr Kopp’s right to respect for privacy, leading to stronger legal protections.

Read more