Please feel free to contact a university lawyer, archivist or registrar if you have questions or would like advice on issues relating to the disclosure of official documents.
What is a public document?
A document is classified as official if it has been submitted to, was drawn up by or is in the keeping of a public authority. Please note that 'document' does not only refer to traditional paper documents. Official documents can also include photographs, databases, maps, drawings, and audio and video recordings.
When students hand in a document to their lecturers for assessment, this is regarded as "submitted to the authority or due public official". Consequently, the document is to be regarded as received, according to the Freedom of the Press Act, and is hence by law considered an official document. The same goes for written examinations handed in to an exam invigilator.
Documents uploaded to a learning platform are also classified as public documents since they are regarded as submitted. Degree projects and other theses and essays in undergraduate education (first-cycle courses and study programmes), are classified as submitted when they are handed in for final assessment. Any supervision prior to handing in the final product does not render the document as submitted and it is hence not regarded as official yet.
What is not a public document?
Certain types of document are not normally considered official documents, for instance:
- Minutes of meetings - unless the content forms the basis for a decision or is relevant to a case.
- Drafts and proposals for decisions, reports, etc - unless they are dispatched, completed or taken into hand for archiving.
- Internal mail, internal faxes and internal e-mails that are not included in the final handling of a case. Lists of incoming and outgoing emails are public, however.
- Trade union mail correspondence or other mail sent to employees in their capacity as holders of other positions, such as information provided by a trade union to a local representative at the university or party-related mail to a politician.
- Private mail, even when sent to the University. Please note! It is a good idea not to mix mail to the University with private mail and, as far as possible avoiding using the university e-mail system for private messages. Please note that the University email system may not be used for secondary employment/side businesses.
In principle, all official documents are public. In some cases, however, information and parts of official documents can be classified as confidential, but this must be supported by one of the provisions of the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (Swedish Code of Statutes 2009:400) in Sweden, henceforth referred to as the Act.
If a piece of information is classified as confidential, it is an offence to disclose it. In other words, it is punishable by law to orally or by presenting a document disclose confidential information.
The Principle of Public Access to Official Documents is limited by the duties of professional secrecy described in the Act. If a piece of information is bound by confidentiality, it is punishable to disclose it to an outsider. The principles refer to the prohibition of disclosing information regardless of this takes place orally, by disclosure of official documents or in any other way. Employees at a public authority as well as others who have assignments within a public authority and has such links to the public authority that they can be regarded to participate in the business activities are bound by duties of professional secrecy (2009:400, Chapter 2, Section 1). And, a person who at any point has been bound by professional secrecy remains by this duty even after having left his or her post or role.
Professional secrecy and confidentiality also apply within a public authority, between coordinators and administrators, and between cases. Only public officials who have a specific "need to know" to complete their work tasks may access the confidential information.
Confidentiality in research at Umeå University
If researchers in a research project request documents from another public authority, these documents may be classified according to the Act at the public authority that discloses and passes the information on. When a document is disclosed and passed on, the regulations of confidentiality in the Act also apply to the documents even after they have been disclosed to the researcher at the University (2009:400, Chapter 11, Section 3).
As a researcher, you must be observant of such transferred confidentiality may be applicable to any of the documents and data you process within your project. If you are considering sharing research data with other parties within the project, such a disclosure must first be assessed with regards to potential confidentiality aspects before it can take place.
At Umeå University, confidentiality also applies regarding an individual's business and operating conditions, inventions or research findings that have been submitted or produced in such research that is conducted in collaboration with the individual. Confidentiality applies if it is considered that the individual participated in the research collaboration under the condition that the information would not be disclosed (2009:400, Chapter 24, Section 5).
Even if information that a company provides to the University should be covered by confidentiality, the University can never guarantee confidentiality in an agreement. The drawing up of confidentiality clauses in such agreements must be reviewed by a legal officer at the University.
Disclosure of public documents
A request for the disclosure of an official document must, by law, be dealt with promptly. In practice, this means that the document must be disclosed immediately for requests made in person, and within two days for requests made by phone, letter, email, etc.
The document is disclosed as a paper copy or else, the requesting party must be granted the opportunity to view a copy of the document onsite. There is nothing to stop someone who views the document onsite from photographing the document, for instance with the use of a mobile phone camera.
If it would simplify the University's processing of the request and if the official documents do not contain any personal data, the documents can be disclosed digitally. Please also read Personal data and official documents and Personal data and email (only in swedish).
If a request is comprehensive or frequent, please find out more on Advice when processing comprehensive and frequent requests of disclosing official documents (only in swedish).
Documents must be checked for confidentiality before being disclosed
If a document is classed as an official document, a confidentiality assessment must be performed before the document can be disclosed. If any information in the document is protected by any section of the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act, the information may not be disclosed.
If the person in the keeping of the document is unsure if the information can be disclosed, a legal officer at the University must be consulted.
If the person in the keeping of the document refuses to disclose the document, the requesting party must be given the opportunity to have the case tried by the University Director.
The university charges a fee
The University must charge a fee in accordance with the Fees Ordinance (1992:191) for copies of official documents requested. For paper copies, the first nine pages can normally be disclosed for free, but any requests comprising ten pages or more, a fee must be charged per page. Ten pages cost SEK 50 and each additional page costs SEK 2 per page. Fees are also charged for postage or to cover other specific costs associated with sending the requested document. A fee must also be charged even if the document in exceptional cases is disclosed as a digital copy.
Right of anonymity
As an employee of the University, you are not normally entitled to ask the reason why someone wishes to see an official document, nor to enquire about the identity of the person requesting it. Everyone, both Swedish and foreign citizens, has the right to access official documents that are not covered by confidentiality, and must be able to do so anonymously.
Do you have any questions or want some advice on issues relating to the disclosure of public documents? Please contact a university lawyer, archivist or registrar.