Free formation of opinion

Free formation of opinion

Every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom of assembly, freedom of demonstration, freedom of association and freedom of religion. This also applies to you as a central government employee.

You also have freedom to communicate information, which entails special protection against inquiries into informant identity and reprisals. The principle of public access to information means that everyone has the right to transparency and being able to critically examine you and your authority.

"Swedish democracy is founded on the free formation of opinion" - Chapter 1, Article 1, second paragraph of the Instrument of Government

In Sweden everyone is free to air their thoughts, feelings and opinions without any authorities intervening. Freedom of expression applies both to oral and written communications and to images. But freedom of expression is not absolute and can be restricted. For such restrictions to be imposed, they must be necessary in a democratic society, for instance the prohibition of defamation or agitation against a population group.

Freedom of expression is protected in several laws. The Instrument of Government contains general protection and there are more specific rules about, for example, printed matter in the Freedom of the Press Act and about radio and TV broadcasts in the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. Freedom of expression is also a fundamental human right that is protected in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights Fundamental Freedoms and the UN’s declarations and conventions on human rights. 

You also have rights and freedoms as a central government employee

As a central government employee, you also have freedom of expression and the right to freedom of the press, freedom of information, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, just like everyone else. The protection in the Instrument of Government applies in relation to the public institutions, which means that, as a central government employee, you have a constitutional right to freedom of expression in relation to your employer. But in certain situations your freedom of expression may still clash with other parts of the basic values of central government.

The conclusion is that, as a central government employee, you can go a long way in exercising your constitutional rights and freedoms. However, in the role of a central government employee, it can still be wise to be aware of the grey areas.

Government authorities have to be open and transparent, and it has to be possible to follow the path to decisions

The principle of public access to information contributes to guaranteeing that authorities are transparent to citizens, who are thereby able to check their activities. This means that authorities’ deliberations and decisions must be documented in official documents that are public. Everyone has the right to turn to authorities to access the content of these documents. The right to access official documents may be restricted, for instance to protect national security, protect the personal or financial circumstances of private persons or to prevent or prosecute crime. Read more about privacy protection under Respect. The exceptions are extensive, and they are set out in the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (2009:400).

Documentation is important so as to be able to check that a matter has been processed correctly. It is also important for you as a central government employee to be able to show how and why your authority made a particular decision. As an employee of a government authority, it is important that you are aware of the democratic purpose of documentation.

Protection of communication gives public employees a special status

Protection of communication provides special protection for you when you use your freedom of expression to talk about things that happen at your authority. There are several parts to this protection. They include; freedom to communicate information, the right to anonymity, the ban on inquiries and the ban on reprisals. The rules on protection of communication are set out in both the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression.

Freedom to communicate information means that everyone is free to give information on any subject whatsoever, for the purpose of publication in printed or other media. It is only when you turn to someone with a journalistic purpose that the freedom to communicate information applies. When you write something yourself, in social media for instance, you are not covered by the rules. Nor can you make statements in the name of your authority in just any way you please.

The freedom to communicate information is not absolute and there are some exceptions. They include certain serious offences against national security. It can also be an offence to wrongly release secret documents, if this is done with intent.

The purpose of the freedom to communicate information is that it should be possible to publish information about government authorities to make public activities more transparent. It does not give you any special protection as a central government employee.

The right to anonymity means that neither an author nor a person communicating information needs to reveal their identity. Moreover protection of sources applies, i.e. a journalist who has received a communication for publication is prohibited from disclosing their source. The protection of anonymity also applies to persons who are not central government employees. 

The ban on inquiries into identity means that an authority must not try to find out who a person communicating information is. Examples of iinquiries into identity include questions or measures to get at who released or published information. Breaking the ban on inquiries into informant identity is a punishable offence.

The ban on reprisals means that an authority or other public body must not intervene against someone because they have used their freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Reprisals are all measures that lead to negative consequences for the individual, e.g. dismissal or a disciplinary sanction, but also less intrusive measures such as rebukes. Breaking the ban on reprisals is a punishable offence. 


As part of work against corruption and irregularities some authorities have chosen to set up a special function to receive tips and suspicions of irregularities. This is usually called a whistle-blower function. This kind of function can supplement employees’ freedom to communicate information, but can never completely replace it. One of the problems is that it is not possible to provide the same protection of anonymity as in constitutional laws.