Privacy in the age of Data Journalism (2) – The UK’s Privacy Law

After covering European Convention’s relating to privacy legislation the next step on my BEGINNERS GUIDE TO UK PRIVACY LEGISLATION would seem to be:

UK Privacy Legislation

Unfortunately turning to Britain’s own privacy Law’s does not clear up where the line between privacy and free speech sits. Not least confused by the fact that, at the time of writing, there is no ‘privacy law’ in the UK.

That being said recent landmark court cases such as; McKennitt v Ash [2005] and Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] have shown that ‘right to confidence’ laws in the UK are being taken to a new extremes – and it is these laws that you must be wary of when considering a persons right to privacy in Britain.

Naomi Campbell especially broke new ground when she took Mirror Group Newspapers all the way to the House of Lords for publishing an article exposing her as a drug addict.

A new precedent was set. People could claim that their personal information can not be published if the personal information was such that there was a ‘reasonable expectation’ that those obtaining the information – i.e. the press – could tell it was private in nature.

This may all sound sort of complex, and it is, but what it means is that if you came across medical records of a person on the street, you could not then publish them even though you had done nothing wrong in obtaining it. If you are a reasonable person there is a reasonable expectation that you will realise that the information contained in medical records is confidential, and only to be seen by a select few.

All very reasonable, but previously it had been difficult to prove that third party organizations such as the press could ever be subject to a duty of confidence.

It is important to note, however, that in the Campbell case the information published by Mirror Group Newspapers was vindicated in the courts.

What was at fault was the careless publication of surrounding information that the Law Lord’s believed could negatively affect the recovery of Ms Campbell and other patients at her drug rehabilitation centre.

Other recent judicial rulings have shown thata strong public interest argument can still absolve the publication of a person’s private information.

So as long as you’re information is strong enough and you careful to only publish information essential to justify the point, you’re good to go. This ‘public interest test’ runs through as the defining factor in all the regulations that UK journalists should adhere to.

The Data Protection Act 1998

Laws on privacy are somewhat complicated by the Government’s own invasion of peoples privacy.

As most of us know there is already a wealth of personal information stored in public database – but the Data Protection Act makes it illegal to use any personal information on someone without the consent of the individual it is about; or to use collected data for any purpose other than the purpose it was collected.

But the Government has once again allowed an exemption to these rules, providing a public interest defence can be successfully applied.

Click here to see how Ofcom and the PCC fit into the UK’s Privacy Legislation.


About Sam Francis

Freelance journalist. Former MA Investigative Journalism student at City University, London. Lover of data, admirer of information, seducer of computers.
This entry was posted in Data tools, Freedom of Information, How to, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Privacy in the age of Data Journalism (2) – The UK’s Privacy Law

  1. Pingback: Privacy in the age of Data Journalism (1) – a Beginner’s Guide | The Data Day

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