Privacy in the age of Data Journalism (1) – a Beginner’s Guide

Privacy legislation in the UK is a potential minefield for journalists – and this has never been more true than in the current trend for posting large data sets almost verbatim (more commonly known as Data Journalism).

Whilst the there is no official ‘privacy law’ in the UK in practice British Journalists are governed by a complex system of codes and laws that deal with the delicate balancing act between a persons right to privacy and the freedom of speech.

And If you have any ambition to become a successful journalist you will need to come to terms with these rules as best as you can (at the very least stopping yourself from getting embroiled in expensive legal suits)

Talking to Ben Leapman a few weeks ago he maintained that there were still ways of keeping on the right side of privacy legislation when publishing huge data sets.

So in this vein please read and enjoy my BEGINNERS GUIDE TO UK PRIVACY LEGISLATION:

The European Convention on Human Rights

To simplify things I feel it’s best to start from the top, and in legal terms you’ll stuggle to get much higher than the European Court of Human Right’s and it’s mandates.

Privacy laws in Britain are controlled by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, derived directly from both judicial interpretations, and Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Article 8 provides that there should be no interference with a person’s private and family life whilst Article 10 guarantees freedom of expression. When it comes to legislating on clash of these opposing articles, though, there is nothing in the convention that accords either Article 8 or Article 10 automatic priority over the other.

From a journalistic perspective it is also important to note that Article 8 of the European Convention does not strictly guarantee a right to privacy as such. What it guarantees everyone is:

the right to respect for… [a] private life.”

At the highest-level, then, the law’s role in defining the fine balance between a right to privacy and free speech is largely ambiguous.

Both these articles, however, come with clauses. The most interesting – from a journalist’s point of view – is in Article 8, where it states:

“There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

To put it in general terms then there is room for an argument of public interest where these matters are concerned. A common thread throughout much of the UK’s privacy rules.

Click here for UK legislation on Privacy.


About Sam Francis

Freelance journalist. Former MA Investigative Journalism student at City University, London. Lover of data, admirer of information, seducer of computers.
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One Response to Privacy in the age of Data Journalism (1) – a Beginner’s Guide

  1. Pingback: What is Data Journalism? Well, It’s quite fun actually | The Data Day

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