Onlooker Filming: New Swedish Jurisprudence?

car accident on the road with a red car upsite down

writer icon Peter Karlsson     ISB   |   Tech Ethics     🕐 23. Apr. 2019

Complaints have been lodged by Swedish police against three people filming at a recent road accident, where a man died from injuries sustained when hitting a bridge foundation.

The people filming are being charged with privacy violation under a new 2018 'breach of privacy' law, updating legal terms on privacy for modern-day conditions.

New law
The 2018 law stipulates that it is a punishable offence to spread or share sensitive content such as imagery, video or personal information that can be deemed offensive, or found to be in breach of privacy.

So far, the new legislation has been indicted 22 times since its 2018 inception, however mainly in instances of so-called 'revenge porn' prosecutions. This is the first time the law could be used to limit and punish onlooker activity when filming an accident, possibly generating important jurisprudence to its future use.

Onlooker activity
At the site of the accident on March 21st, it became clear early for the Stockholm police officers present that onlookers were filming the accident to share on social media platforms: "When we asked several of the people filming what they were going to do with the [video] material they answered unbashedly that they aimed to upload it onto social media" press-spokesman for Stockholm police, Ola Österling, said to Swedish DN.

Swedish police authorities also ruminated on similar incidents, where onlooker activity had made it hard for rescue and emergency personnel to get past, in some cases creating aggravating circumstances: making it near impossible to carry out their intended work.

"We have found this to be a major problem at accident-sites, where we do not know how to act or intervene. Because of that it would be great if we could put this new law into practice [like this], Österling added.

Freedom of expression
Law implementation in cases like this is not necessarily a straight-forward process. On the one hand it puts restrictions on freedom of expression, and on the other it helps protect someone's privacy.

In addition, filming and video-sharing to social media has also helped draw attention to cases of disproportionate use of violence by U.S. police force, illustrating a possible need for sensitive content sharing to remain protected under law.

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