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UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office Issues Consultation on Data Protection and the Press

Posted in United Kingdom

By Fredericka Argent and Helena Marttila-Bridge

On 21 February 2013, the ICO launched a consultation on its proposal for a new code of practice regulating the press in the UK.  The consultation is in response to the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012, which recommended significant and wide-ranging changes to the structure and regulation of news reporting in the UK.  As we blogged here, the ICO responded to the Leveson Report with comments on the role of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the “DPA”) in regulating the press and promises to issue new press guidance.

The ICO has made clear that the code of practice is not intended to create any new legally binding obligations. Rather, the proposed code will lay down guidance on the application of section 32 of the DPA, which provides an exemption from compliance with certain data protection principles where personal data is processed, among other things, with a view to the publication of journalistic material in the public interest (the so-called “special purposes” exemption).  Although the precise content of the code of practice is a work-in-progress, the ICO has proposed to cover at least the following topics:

  • Application of key data protection principles, such as subject access rights, to the operations of the press.
  • Explanation on how the concepts of strong data protection practices and freedom of the press can co-exist.
  • In-depth examination of application of the section 32 DPA “special purposes” exemption to journalistic activities.
  • Advice on how good practice can promote compliance with the law.  This guidance will be developed in consultation with the press and broadcast media industry.
  • Information on how the ICO foresees resolving disputes, including guidance on  the ICO’s enforcement role and claims for compensation.

The press and broadcast media are invited to participate in this first, short consultation, which is the precursor to a stakeholder-specific engagement plan to be published at a later date. Ultimately, once a code is drawn up, this will also be subject to a full public consultation.  Response to this first consultation must be submitted by 15 March 2013.