A man has just lost his appeal for a regional newspaper to remove an archived story of his fraud conviction from its website.
Despite the recent introduction of a ‘right to be forgotten’ in a European Court ruling, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) rejected the man’s complaint that the Newsquest-owned paper was breaching the Data Protection Act 1998.
The man in question approached the newspaper and asked it to remove the report, arguing that the conviction occurred in January 2000, and was now spent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
The man also complained that a similar conviction against a former colleague did not appear in the newspaper’s online archive, arguing that this was “inconsistent.”
Newsquest refused to remove the material, arguing that it was general company policy that it does not delete, amend, or annotate, material in its archives, unless there was an inaccuracy.
The publisher also said it took the view that the 1974 Act has no bearing on retention of stories in the archive, whether or not a conviction is “spent”.
Newsquest argued that its archives – whether in hard copy or online – are a valuable historical record, and their integrity should be preserved as far as possible, and therefore should be kept indefinitely, and that their creation and upkeep complied with the Data Protection Act.
It told the ICO that it was retaining the information about the man’s conviction in line with section 32 of the Data Protection Act, which gives an exemption from the Act’s provision for special purposes for the publication of journalistic, literary, or artistic material.
In its ruling, published this week, the ICO said it took “a fairly broad view of what counts as journalism under the exemption so as to ensure proper protection for the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“If something is done with the aim of disclosing information, opinion, or ideas to the public by any means, it will be for the purposes of journalism,” it said.
It said Newsquest had highlighted that retaining reports of criminal convictions in newspaper archives did not breach the Data Protection Act, and had argued that if it did, then newspaper archives in general would be impractical to operate, and worthless to users.
Newsquest had also argued that hard copy archives stored at newspaper officers, and in public libraries, had become increasingly accessible electronically as newspapers gradually digitized their archives – which explained why the report about the complainant’s colleague, who was convicted seven years earlier, had not yet gone online.
The ICO said it was satisfied that publication of the article within the archive satisfied the terms of the Data Protection Act journalistic exemption.
A spokesman for the ICO press office said that while it was more than happy to confirm that the data controller in question was Newsquest, it was unable to reveal exactly which Newsquest newspaper or website was involved in the issue.