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Crime records go online in Sweden amid protests

January 27, 2014

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A website that lets Swedes check each other’s criminal records has sparked a debate about the privacy of ex-convicts and their right to move on with their lives.

Such databases are available in the United States, but aren’t common in Europe, where privacy protection laws are typically stricter.

By searching the Lexbase database, launched Monday by a Swedish company, users can instantly find out whether a person has been convicted of a crime in the past five years. A fee is required to get more information.

Lexbase has a map with dots showing where convicted criminals live and plans to offer a mobile app alerting users when they enter a neighborhood with a high proportion of residents with criminal records.

Though such records are public in Sweden, critics said making them so easily accessible could prompt vigilantism against people who have already served their sentences and make it harder for them to re-enter society.

Thomas Andersson, a spokesman for ECPAT, an organization that fights the sexual exploitation of children, said the service could lead to “increased social alienation” for offenders, increasing the risk of recidivism.

Lexbase spokesman Pontus Ljunggren said he believes the database will help create a more secure and transparent society.

“We believe the benefits far outweigh the potential damages, which we believe will be very small,” he said.

Soren Oman, director of the Stockholm Center for Commercial Law, said the website cannot be held liable under Sweden’s data protection laws because it has been granted a publishing license that gives it constitutional protection.

However, he said it could potentially be exposed to defamation lawsuits because vilifying information can be considered defamatory under Swedish law even if it’s not untrue.

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