Privacy in the age of Data Journalism (4) – A Data Journalism check list

The good news for Data Journalists is that according to each of the bodies that govern British journalists intruding into the private lives of citizens in the UK is always justifiable – as long as it stands a strong enough public interest defence.

The definitions of public interest are far from all encompassing. What they do provide is a flavour of what is considered public interest by most senior bodies respect.

Privacy legislation in the UK is one giant grey area. But do not be disheartened. It may not be nice to say out loud but having vague definitions of what accounts to public interest allows for a lot of wiggle room for journalists – especially those who plan to publish large scale data sets.

To make sure you stay on the right side of the Law though it is always worth keeping in mind:

  1. Publish only what is absolutely necessary to get your point across- taking into account the specialist nature of ‘right to confidence’ laws in the UK, check my stories for potential sensitive surrounding information.
  2. Ensure your prima facieevidence of wrong doing is strong enough to cover multiple different aspects of an invasion of privacy.
  3. Ensure the public interest argument was not only strong but one that is realistically provable in a court of law.
  4. Be prepared to argue until the High Courts. Even though this is pretty unlikely no one really knows where data journalism is heading and how it will be treated by the courts. But the rich and powerful – who often find themselves themselves on the receiving end of news stories – rarely shy away from the courts when they feel they have been caught.

I do feel bad that these Blogs cannot offer any firm guidance on what and what not to do to stay on the right side of the law, but under current UK legislation there can be no black and white guide.

Privacy Law in the UK is a tricky field but after reading this Blog hopefully you’ll be aware of the potential pitfalls. Happy Journalisming!


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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