Freedom of press vs data protection – the big debate
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Freedom of press vs data protection – the big debate

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As we prepare ourselves for the General Data Protection Regulation, an updated version of the Data Protection Bill is making its way through Parliament. The bill will hopefully give people more control over their personal data and greater enforcement powers when organisations don’t keep it safe or misuse it.

In addition to this, the House of Lords changed the way reporters can obtain and use personal information in the name of public interest. This means individuals can make a claim for their private information not to be disclosed before it’s already plastered on the headlines.

Some news outlets are not happy about it!

Naomi Firsht, writer for digital magazine Spiked Online, believes the changes to the law are an “assault on the freedom of press” and that, in implementing this, we are putting a “muzzle” on reporters. The National Media Association said “the amendments would give powerful claimants with something to hide fresh ammunition to pursue legal claims and shut down legitimate public-interest investigation into their activities.”

As a democratic nation, we entrust the press to provide the public with correct and relevant news so we know what’s going on in the U.K. and the rest of the world. It seems right that information in relation to the public interest should be made available. So, perhaps if a story is legitimately in the public interest, these legal challenges should be seen as an extra safeguard to ensure that what reporters dig up is accurate, relevant and genuinely in the interest of the public.

But what is public interest, and does it trump individual privacy?

Do we have a right to know everything and anything? The Circle, written by Dave Eggars, explores a world when a Google or Apple-esque company takes social media to a whole new level, calling secrets ‘lies’ and promotes sharing every little detail of your life. Revealing someone’s personal information might be embarrassing or uncomfortable for a while, but after they get used to it, the premise of the idea is that it’s better for everyone to know everyone’s business.

You could argue that this promotes accountability and deterrence from breaking the law if the public and law enforcement knows everything about you and your personal life.

Perhaps in a the future, this might be the world we live in, but for now, the common interest is to protect data; particularly sensitive and confidential information. Each individual has a right to privacy, and celebrities are human beings with the same rights. Let’s not forget the time News International were discovered to be hacking into celebrity’s phones in 2011 for material for headlines. The Government responded by instructing Lord Justice Leveson to chair a judicial public inquiry into how the celebrities could have their private information so acutely violated. Part 1 of the Leveson inquiry looked into the “culture, practice and ethics of the press” which highlights the ongoing debate between freedom of the press and personal invasion.

Whilst celebrities generate a lot of their income by being in the eye of the public, this doesn’t mean we have a right to know anything and everything about them. Maybe if they were using their celebrity status to engage in serious criminal activity it would be in the public interest to reveal it, but having an affair with someone or private family arguments could be construed as private, and to plaster it on national newspapers can have a real impact on individuals involved; all in the name of selling more newspapers.

Under the new bill, stories containing personal information may only be publicised if it receives approval from the press regulator Impress. Impress is the only regulator to be backed by the Royal Charter and mostly adhere to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

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