A controversial new site that lets Web users check out the criminal records of their friends and neighbours has caused outrage among privacy experts in Sweden who warn that it could breach privacy laws.
The Lexbase.se service, launched on Monday, allows people in Sweden to look up a friend, colleague or neighbour's criminal record under the premise of getting an overview of their neighbourhood.
By paying a fee to search the Lexbase database, users can instantly find out whether a person has been convicted of a crime in the past five years. The site includes a map with dots showing where convicted criminals live. The company also cites plans to extend the offering to a mobile app alerting users when they enter neighbourhoods with a high number of residents with criminal records.
Though such records are public in Sweden, critics have been vocal in condemning Lexbase for making them so easily accessible, stating that they could prompt vigilantism against people who have already served their sentences and make it harder for them to re-enter society.
Amid the controversy Lexbase spokesman Pontus Ljunggren, who at launch said he believes the database will help create a more secure and transparent society, resigned from his position, stating that he and his family have received death threats.
Bloomberg business reports that searches are possible using the name or social security number of an individual — and court rulings can be downloaded. However, searches omit details of witnesses or victims shielded by court orders, or persons under age 18.
The head of Sweden's Data Protection Board, Kristina Svahn Starrsjö voiced her concern that Sweden's constitution needs to be updated to help address the "undeniable paradox that anyone who has a website and a publishing licence can freely handle information in a way that police are prohibited from doing."
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.