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Sweden: Proposal to Outlaw Use of Smartphones to Take Compromising Pictures

(Mar. 8, 2012) On February 29, 2012, the Swedish government made public draft legislation to outlaw the use of camera-equipped smartphones to take compromising pictures of people without their knowledge. The measure takes aim at cases of “modern-day Peeping Toms” snapping photographs “of women in various states of undress … in department store fitting rooms, public toilets, or showers.” (Sweden to Outlaw Pics Taken by Peeping Toms, THE LOCAL (Mar. 1, 2012).)

Previous attempts to prevent such acts of secret picture-taking that infringe on specific individuals have been thwarted on grounds that the restrictions would contravene freedom of expression, despite the victims' arguments that the acts violated their right to privacy. Minister of Security and Justice Beatrice Ask indicated that formulation of the proposal took into account the need to avoid criminalizing legitimate camera work, such as that of journalists. That is why the draft law would make “insulting picture-taking” (kränkande fotografering) a new crime, punishable by a prison term of up to two years, but not ban “unauthorized” taking of pictures. The courts would determine what constitutes an “insulting” photograph. The government seeks to have the new law in force by July 1. (Id.)

The Ministry of Security and Justice has grappled with creating a workable formulation for the offense since 2008. After the original proposal, which only applied to pictures taken in private homes, met with a barrage of negative criticism, the Ministry completely reworked it and presented a new draft in January 2011. That proposal set forth “a more narrow definition of what is considered insulting,” “an expanded definition of where the law can be applied” beyond just in a person's home, and an exception for the work of journalists in sensitive situations “if a reporter is trying to show that a public figure is doing something inappropriate.” (Sweden Looks to Ban Pics Taken by Peeping Toms, THE LOCAL (Jan. 24, 2011).) However, it contained the language “unauthorised” (instead of the newly proposed”insulting”) photographing to be added to the Swedish criminal code. That language, along with the provision on journalists, had apparently figured in the slamming of the 2011 proposal as “sloppy and poorly defined” by the head of Journalistförbundet, Sweden's main union for the press. (Id.)