By Professor Jacob
Stockholm University and KTH Technical University
First version: 6 August 1998 Last revision: 6 August 1998
|This is a short overview of the issue and debate regarding the social security number in Sweden. It has been criticized for causing invasion of privacy, but is getting more and more accepted.|
|The actual name of this number in Sweden is "personnummer" which directly
translated to English would be "Personal Number". And this name more correctly
shows its wide usage in Sweden.
Everyone living in Sweden must have a social security number. For people born in Sweden, the number is specified at birth, immigrants are given a number if they stay longer than as tourists. The number is composed of the date of birth plus three digits plus one check digit. The gender is indicated by the third digit, even for women, odd for men. These three digits also sometimes, but not always, contain information about the region of birth.
Also juridical persons (companies) get personal numbers.
Here are some of the major uses of the number:
Tax authorities use the number in all their communication about individuals, for example when an employer sends tax money, deducted from the wage. One effect of this is that illegal immigrants cannot have work, for which they pay taxes. Thus, illegal immigrants can only work in black market (untaxed) jobs.
Medical organizations use it to store information about the health status, to reduce the risk of mixing up health information about two individuals.
The public insurance system uses the number in handling of insurance payments and collecting information to compute future old age pensions.
Most other government organizations use the number to securely identify individuals.
Many private companies use it when storing information about individuals and their accounts, for example banks and insurance companies. This is not mandatory, but most do it. Some of them even use the number as part of the account number itself.
When you pay with a credit card, the social security number is used to check your identity.
The number, together with your address, is stored in a government data base available to organizations who want to find your address.
|During the 1970s, the number was much debated and criticized, because of the potential
risk for invasion of privacy. As a result of this debate, the Swedish
Data Act was written, which regulates how computerized personal information may
During the 1980s, as a result of this, government agencies tried to reduce the usage of the number. Private companies (banks, insurance companies, employers) were asked to stop using the number, especially making the number part of their account numbers. This was however not enforced strenuously, and the companies complained of the high cost, and risks, involved with not using the number.
As a result of this, in the 1990s, the number is again getting more accepted. The government never succeeded in getting neither one of the largest private insurance companies nor one of the largest banks to stop using the number as part of their account numbers.
|As people get more accustomed to computers, their fear of their misuse gets smaller.
I personally feel that to me, the benefits strongly outweighs the problems.
This conclusion may be different in other countries. Sweden is a small stable country with less crime than many other countries. Misuse is probably easier to find out about, and stop, than in other countries.
Other documents of interest.