Why (some) personal data is open data in Sweden

If you forget your Swedish friend’s birthday, you can probably look it up on Facebook (after all, Facebook Messenger is the WhatsApp of Sweden). Is your friend not on Facebook? Don’t worry, in Sweden, using a data intermediary like Ratsit.se, you can access every registered person’s birthday, gender, phone number, address, number of address changes, house details (size, amount or rooms, etc.), neighbors, company ownership, vehicle ownership, and more. You don’t even need to pay a fee. Here is an excerpt of someone I found on Ratsit.se. It would be a bit strange to paste someone’s personal details into this blog post, so I made up the details.

NameJon Eriksson
Citizen registration number19220101- XXXX
Age102 years old
Date of birth01 January 1922
Zodiac signCapricorn

Jon Eriksson is a 102-year-old man who lives at Kälvestavägen 15 in Örebro. Jon Eriksson’s home is a 220 sq m villa/townhouse. He has a special address registered at Valhallavägen 52 in Göteborg. In Jon Eriksson’s postcode, 702 27, the average income is SEK 436,350 per year and the proportion of people with payment complaints is 2.63%. If you want to know more about income and payment notes for Jon Eriksson and his neighbors, you can buy the Ratsit catalog for Örebro, which includes Jon Eriksson. You can find Jon Eriksson’s salary and information about any payment notice on page 33. Jon lives together with Julia Eriksson. She is an 89-year-old woman who moved in on October 7, 1970 and has lived there a total of 53 years and 288 days. Jon is married to Julia Eriksson. On Julia’s next birthday, he will be 103 years old. It occurs in 267 days. His next big anniversary (jubileum in Swedish) is when he turns 110 in 7 years and 178 days (a Thursday). His name day is on August 21st. Jon has no corporate commitments. There are no companies registered at his address. Jon owns 2 vehicles, and you can see more information about the make and model year under “vehicles that Jon owns”.

People with the highest salaries in Arboga (name and surnames redacted, screenshot from Ratsit.se)

On their dedicated page, Ratsit.se explains that the data is obtained from, for example, private telecommunications companies, as well as the Swedish Tax Agency, Statistics Sweden, the Swedish Companies Registration Office, the Swedish Transport Agency, the Swedish Enforcement Authority, the Land Registry, and the Swedish Agricultural Agency. Ratsit.se packages all this data and displays it in a search engine.

Ratsit.se is not the only company offering this service, popular competitors are Hitta.se and mrkoll.se. Even outside of Sweden, other data intermediaries can provide a similar level of detail about individuals. However, it is a bit unusual for this data to be available legally, for free, and without even having to create an account. This quirk of Swedish society is explained by their very strong press freedom laws. Ratsit.se is registered as a news outlet, just like any big newspaper in Sweden, and is covered by the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. There is also the Freedom of the Press Act, which allows access to official documents. See here for more details about the legislative framework on public access to information in Sweden.

What about GDPR?

According to GDPR, Ratsit.se (and similar intermediaries) should delete your personal data upon request. Ratsit.se confirms in their FAQs that they will delete an individual’s data upon request, however, they also write that “The Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act (DSL) do not apply if the application of the GDPR or DSL is against the freedom of expression”.

This also confirmed on the Swedish Tax Agency’s website:

“The Freedom of the Press Act takes precedence over the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the Swedish Data Protection Act. The Swedish Tax Agency may therefore process personal data in order to disclose it in accordance with the principle of public access – even if disclosure does not fall within the scope of the original purpose for processing the data.”

Governmental agencies can hide your data if there is a credible danger. As explained by the Swedish Tax Agency:

“If you are granted protected identity, we restrict access to information about you in the Swedish Population Register, such as your name and address. Under normal circumstances, data held in the Swedish Population Register is available to the general public”.

Alessandra Paiusco was contacted by someone who managed to have the government hide their address for security reasons, but here is what happened afterwards:

“[…] we started to have all sorts of problems, for example when applying for parental benefits, have fixed rate savings accounts (because the bank could not find our address in the public database), and having ‘normal’ customer service from mobile service providers […]

The situation got so bad that they decided to cancel their decision, and make their address visible again.

How do Swedish residents feel about this?

When I asked my Swedish friends about this, some were amused, others were surprised about just how much data is visible for free. Many people who recently moved to Sweden find this situation very strange, if not disturbing. I browsed r/Sweden to read people’s sentiments on the issue, outside of my bubble.

User PoliteAndPerverse, also quoted in Alessandra Paiusco’s article, wants us to look at the bigger picture:

“It’s not about convenience, it’s about transparency. You are missing the point if you think it’s just about finding directions to someone’s house. The address/phone number is just a small part of it. It’s about having transparency of government records. I can check how much my boss pays in taxes, I can look up what education a politician has, I can request that information about criminal cases be sent to me. This is about democracy and being accountable to the people.”

User weirdoweirdo was very glad that fellow Swedes could easily find his phone number:

“No I’ve never had any problems. On the contrary I have gotten back my wallet two or three times when I’ve lost it, because people have been able to find my number and call me.”

In true Swedish fashion, [deleted username] complained about being unable to keep their birthday secret from co-workers:

“The worst part is that you can’t keep your birthday secret, and people will say happy birthday to you at work”

There are, of course, serious reasons for wanting to hide your personal data from these online databases, and some users argue that the laws and principles protecting these databases were written for a time when the internet did not exist. Others mention that the rise in gang criminality should spur a reconsideration. My take is that constitutional laws are meant to be longstanding, and that changing fundamental principles due to a crisis or due to new technological advancements has its own dangers. Cultural factors are also obviously at play here, the Wikipedia page on resident registration gives a nice overview of how different countries’ governments handle personal details. For example, Germany seems to have a much more careful approach. As user more_original points out (quoting Wikipedia): “Contrary to popular belief, there is no central administration of resident registration in Germany […] Registration is organized by 5283 local offices throughout Germany”.


Thanks to very strong press freedom and freedom of expression laws, a lot of personal data about Swedish residents is open data. Hiding it for security reasons is possible but very complicated, and not everyone is happy about this. Data intermediaries offering similar information exist in other countries, but it is very unusual for this data to be available for free (and legally).