Data law may gag the press

 作者:伯纠头     |      日期:2019-02-27 02:11:02
By Barry Fox INVESTIGATIVE journalists could soon be shackled by a new European directive on data protection. From 1998, members of the public will be able to block the publication of digital material if it has been obtained “unfairly”. The directive, which will be enshrined in British law, is likely to restrict the use of hidden cameras in fraud cases, and the use of “doorstepping”. Though the directive only covers material stored digitally, the impact on the media could be severe. These days, broadcasters and print journalists store both pictures and stories on computers. Last week, Elizabeth France, Britain’s Data Protection Registrar, warned of a flood of new complaints and called on the government to strike a balance between protecting privacy and press freedom. “The directive cannot be changed and the government has signed. It does not allow full exemption for the media,” she warned. “But it does allow some balanced exemptions and we are asking the Home Office for clearly framed exceptions. I can ask for this now, but once the law is passed, it becomes my duty to enforce it.” The registrar urged the media to tell the Home Office what they think. “We have been trying to tell broadcasters what the directive means to them for two years, but they do not understand,” says France’s deputy, Francis Aldhouse. France’s final plea came two days before the consultation period closed on 19 July. Britain’s 1984 Data Protection Act was drafted in the 1970s before computers were so widely used by the media. The act “regulates the use of automatically processed information relating to individuals”. Unless data are used solely for domestic purposes, such as a Christmas card list, anyone who stores and sifts data that relates to a “living individual who can be identified”, must register with the Data Protection Registrar. This allows people to check what data are stored on them, correct them and complain to the registrar about misuse. Over 200 000 users are registered and 3000 people complain in Britain each year, mostly about the misuse of credit information. Data misuse can lead to a £5000 fine. The EU’s Data Protection Directive is based on the British act, but is far tougher. Victims of misuse can claim for compensation and also block the use of material. Where journalists doorstep recalcitrant subjects to get pictures or interviews, and then store the information digitally, they will forfeit the defence that the data were obtained “fairly and lawfully”, says Aldhouse. Where television reporters use hidden cameras to expose wrongdoing, they may not be able to use the footage. France wants a “thorough review” of British law, not the “minimalist” action she fears the government is planning in order to implement the directive. Aldhouse warns that the media will have to negotiate a legal minefield to discover what is allowed. “Let’s say you have a picture of the Prime Minister, and you manipulate it like a cartoon. Is that fair processing? We just don’t know. There is no case law,