The Swedish study

In 2013 Fores conducted an ambitious study contacting 339 Swedish authorities asking them whether they had requested information about users from private companies, or if they had requested takedowns of copyrighted or other material published on other websites.

The aim of the study was to retrace the numbers disclosed by the social media companies to specific authorities, in order to map which ones were requesting such data, so that there could be a push into reviewing their use and authority in such requests. The study consisted of two separate questionnaires where the first one was a simple Yes/No question on whether such requests had been made. The second was a follow up for all positive replies where we tried to identify the scope, legitimacy and internal regulations tied to such requests.

Despite Sweden having a quite enviable tradition of openness, it proved difficult to conduct this kind of study. Most authorities never answered the first questionnaire at all. Of those who answered (130 in total) only a small number had made such requests, and then only in a few instances. Of the key authorities (Police, Taxes and Insurance), only the tax authority (Skatteverket) made some kind of effort to reply, but could not give accurate numbers. Some authorities forwarded our request perpetually between different employees, some gave vague indications that we would not get a reply while others failed to understand the question.