When I first moved to Sweden and registered my residence, I was shocked to learn that where I lived—and where everyone else in Sweden lives—is a matter of public record.
With a simple search on websites like hitta.se, eniro.se, and mrkoll.se, anyone can find out where anyone lives. In fact, these websites can even give you more detailed info on the person you are searching for, like how much their house is worth, when their birthday is, when their name day is, if they own a business, who they live with, if they own a car, even if they own a dog!
And I soon learned that this access to information doesn’t stop there. Other information like individual incomes, tax information, and government documents are all freely available to the public upon request.
But why is Sweden like this? Why can we so easily access information on each other and the government?
It all comes down to the offentlighetsprincipen, or “openness principle." This fundamental principle is rooted in the idea that an open and transparent government is essential for a functioning democracy, as it allows citizens to hold their elected officials accountable and make informed decisions.
The offentlighetsprincipen applies to all documents held by government agencies, including those related to policy development, decision-making, and the administration of government programs. This includes documents such as meeting minutes, reports, and correspondence. The principle also applies to government-funded organizations, such as universities, hospitals, and municipalities.
But there are some exceptions, such as when access to a document would jeopardize national security or the privacy of individuals.
The offentlighetsprincipen is considered one of the strongest freedom of information laws in the world, and it has played a critical role in promoting transparency and accountability in the Swedish government.
Sweden also has the world’s oldest access to information laws, which forms the foundation for the openness principle. The law, adopted in 1776, established that freedom of the press was an integral part of a functioning democracy, and that the press being able to access documents and archives was an important part of this principle.
Which brings us to today… where you can freely look up how much your coworker makes or if your crush owns a dog 😜.