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Secret Abortion Files Cause an Uproar in Sweden

February 12, 1986|From Reuters

STOCKHOLM — Revelation today of a secret abortion register covering 165,000 Swedish women set off the second public uproar in three days over use of sensitive, personal information in government data banks.

The Data Inspection Board, whose job is to protect Swedes against abuse of data held about them in government computers, said scientists at the Karolinska Institute had assembled a file on women who had legal abortions between 1966 and 1974.

The institute, a world-famous research center, said it used the file in a study of links between abortion and cancer. None of the women were told their names were in the institute's computers.

The case is the second to hit the headlines in three days. On Monday, newspapers reported sociologists using government computer records had been secretly monitoring every detail of the lives of all 15,000 people born in Stockholm in 1953.

Hundreds of anxious 32- and 33-year-olds unwittingly involved in that project, code-named "Metropolit," swamped the Data Inspection Board with telephone calls.

Opposition members of Parliament demanded an explanation from the Social Democratic government on how confidential data from police, health and other authorities was obtained with such apparent ease by the Metropolit sociologists.

Swedish radio reported today that the Metropolit project leader may face charges of fraudulently obtaining information that included people's criminal records, drinking habits, sexual problems and religious beliefs.

The data board's phones again rang virtually non-stop today after the Dagens Nyheter newspaper disclosed the existence of the abortion register.

There are about 100,000 computer registers containing data about individuals in Sweden.

"An unmarried, well-behaved person would normally be listed in about 100 files," said Data Inspection Board head Jan Freese in a newspaper interview. "If married and not quite so well behaved, he might appear in up to 200 data banks."

Collating information on individuals is not difficult since all Swedes have a 10-digit identity number, allocated at birth, which is the key to accessing all personal data the government has compiled.

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