Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Sweden: Supreme Administrative Court Defines Prohibited Camera Surveillance

(Nov. 23, 2016) In two decisions issued on October 21, 2016, the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court defined the boundaries of prohibited camera surveillance. The Court found that mounting a  camera for use on a drone requires prior permission from the Länsstyrelsen (County Administrative Board) in accordance with the Camera Surveillance Act, whereas mounting a camera on a car does not.  (Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen [Swedish Administrative Supreme Court], Case 78-16 (Oct. 21, 2016), Swedish Administrative Supreme Court website; Swedish Administrative Supreme Court, Case 4110-15 (Oct. 21, 2016), Swedish Administrative Supreme Court website; Kameraövervakningslagen [Camera Surveillance Act], Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 2013:460, NOTISUM.) The distinguishing difference between the two cases was whether the camera could be controlled without “being maneuvered at the site.”  (Case 4110-15, at 5; Case 78-16, at 3.)

Camera Surveillance

The Camera Surveillance Act requires prior approval for the mounting of a surveillance camera in the direction of a space where there is public access. (Camera Surveillance Act, § 8.)   Surveillance cameras are defined in section 2 of the law as:

TV cameras, other optical-electric instruments and equivalent equipment that are mounted so that they, without being maneuvered at the site, can be used for surveillance of individuals, as well as separate technical devices for wiretapping or receiving audio transmissions in connection with the use of such equipment, used for surveillance of individuals.  (Camera Surveillance Act, § 2, emphasis by author.)

The definition thus prescribes a three-pronged test to determine if equipment qualifies as a surveillance camera: 1) it must be mounted, 2) it is not maneuvered at the site, and 3) it can be used for surveillance of individuals.

Application of Surveillance Camera Tests

The first test of whether the devices in the cases at hand were surveillance cameras – whether the camera is mounted – was applied and found to be fulfilled in both court cases. A camera mounted on a car, bike, or drone is mounted as specified in law, even if it is not constantly mounted on the vehicle or drone.  (Case 4110-15, at 4; Case 78-16, at 4.)

The next test was whether the camera could be used without being “maneuvered at the site”; the Court found that this test consists of whether the camera can be controlled from a place different from where it is mounted. The Court cited legislative history, in which handheld devices have been deemed to be outside the scope of the Camera Surveillance Law, to define the scope of “maneuvered at the site.”  (Case 4110-15, at 4, referencing legislative history: Proposition [Prop.] 1975/76:194 om TV-övervakning [government bill] at 21 & Prop. 2012/13:115 En ny kameraövervakningslag [government bill] at 26.) Because a camera mounted on the rack of a bike or the windshield of a car is controlled by steering the vehicle, the maneuvering of the camera also occurs at the site (of the camera).  Thus, using a car or bike to film a set of events is similar to using a handheld camera, and it therefore does not fall within the definition of surveillance camera as intended by the legislators.  Such use thus does not require prior approval from the courts.  (Case 4110-15, at 5.)  The Swedish Data Protection Authority, which had appealed the case, argued that the determining factor should be whether the device is being continuously operated, not the vehicle on which it is mounted.  (Case 4110-15, at 3.)

Cameras that are operated remotely (such as drones) are not operated at their locations and thus fall within the definition of surveillance camera, the Court ruled. (Case 78-16, at 3.)

Once it is established that the camera is mounted and can be operated remotely, the final test is whether the camera can be used for surveillance of individuals. Whether the camera is actually used for such surveillance is immaterial, the Court held.  (Id. at 5.)  The Court found that in the case of cameras mounted on drones, the camera can be used for surveillance of individuals. The Court thus held that their use required prior approval by the local courts and remanded the case to the court of first instance to determine if the applicant’s need to use camera surveillance to perform photography to document buildings in an area outweighs the interest of privacy for the public.  (Id. at 5-6.)

Handling of film material that is shot using a handheld device or dash camera must meet the requirements of privacy protections found in the Personal Data Act. (Personuppgiftslagen, SFS 1998:204, LAGEN.NU.)