Demand for law change after Lexbase launch

The launch of a website that lets Swedes check each other's criminal records has prompted the Data Inspection Board to call for a change in the country's constitutional laws. "Our hands are tied and there is nothing we can do about the site. Much as we want to," Kristina Svahn Starrsjö, head of the Data Inspection Board, told newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

The site Lexbase, which launched Monday, enables users, for a fee, to find out whether a person has any convictions in the past five years by entering a name, social security number or geographic location. A series of red dots appear on a map showing where ex-offenders live.

Lexbase has been given a publishing license and therefore, under Sweden's data protection laws, has the same constitutional protection as radio, television and newspapers, which angers the general maanger of the Data Protection Board. She told DN: "It is indeed a paradox that anyone who has a website with a publishing license can obtain information freely in a way that the police are forbidden to do," Kristina Svahn Starrsjö said.

Several organisations working with ex-convicts were highly critical of the website which they said infringed on the right to privacy. Thomas Andersson, a spokesman for ECPAT, an organization that fights the sexual exploitation of children, told news agency AFP that Lexbase  could lead to "increased social alienation" for offenders, increasing the risk of recidivism.

Lexbase lawyer and founder Pontus Ljunggren defended the company and told media at a press conference that such criminal records are public in Sweden. He said:"We believe the benefits far outweigh the potential damages, which we believe will be very small."