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New EU data regs may affect reporting

October 23, 2013

By Alison Langley

On Monday night, the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament passed one of the strongest data protection regulations in the world. The intent of the law is to strengthen personal privacy in the digital age. But journalists and newspaper publishers’ groups worry that it could hinder reporters from doing their jobs.

Members of the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union, believe the new regulations will protect its citizens from internet companies that gather personal data by making it illegal for them to use it without users’ knowledge.

Additionally, the regulations will bar companies from passing on the personal details of EU citizens to US intelligence organizations. That clause, removed at the draft stage following US pressure last year, is back in, after revelations this summer of widespread NSA data collection, including that of European citizens, angered most of the continent.

But media watchers say that the new law could affect how reporters do their jobs. Current EU-wide privacy rules from 1995 exempt journalists from many data protection laws, though each European Union member state interpreted the regulations differently.

The new version again leaves it up to each country’s decision on how they want to balance personal privacy with free expression. But possible interpretations could make it harder for journalists to research stories. The data protection law says that reporters—and everybody else—would have to prove to an administrator they have “legitimate interest” in obtaining materials, and that they would need consent from people mentioned in articles or photos before they could incorporate them into their work. It remains to be seen how different countries balance these conflicting rights, but journalists aren’t optimistic.

“We’ve always had water-tight exemption for journalists,” said Francine Cunningham, executive director of the European Newspaper Publishers Association. Read more in Columbia Journalism Review.

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