AddThis SmartLayers

Law Column: ICO publishes code of practice on data protection and journalists


Yes, I know, an article about data protection in the middle of Summer, when most people are digging out the sun cream and dreaming of a sangria (or two) by the pool or on the beach, is not going to set pulses racing.  But bear with me, this is important!

In a recent announcement, the Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed the publication of a Code of Practice designed to assist journalists in their use of personal data.  The Code is in the final stages of its journey to coming into force after a number of years of public consultation and review.

The Code, which provides practical guidance on the relevant aspects of data protection law and suggested good practice when handling personal data, applies to anyone using personal data for journalism but is mainly directed at the press, broadcasters and online media outlets.

The ICO say that the Code is designed to complement existing industry codes, including the Editors’ Code of Practice and the OFCOM Broadcasting Code.  It has been produced after a lengthy consultation process in which feedback from media organisations, industry representatives and others, was taken into consideration.

The aim of the code is to promote compliance with existing data protection legislation in the context of data processing that takes place as part of the journalistic process.

It’s an expansion of the guidance published in 2014 following a recommendation from the Leveson Inquiry and was produced in accordance with a requirement set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018).

The issues covered by code include each of the data protection principles and how they relate to journalism such as keeping personal information secure, using personal information lawfully and keeping personal information only for as long as you need it.

Each section is divided into two further subsections which cover what the legislation says, and how to comply with the requirements, respectively. The code distinguishes between legislative requirements that must be complied with and suggested good practice which should be followed.

Accompanying the Code under separate cover are reference notes which provide additional detail together with case studies to assist with assessments of compliance with the relevant legislative requirements and links to additional resources to help with the practical application of the principles.

In addition, the Code examines in depth how the journalism exemption works in practice relative to each of the data protection principles alongside the requirement for full compliance with specific provisions of the GDPR.

Commenting on the publication, John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner said: “A free media is at the heart of any healthy democracy – keeping us informed, encouraging debate and opinion, and entertaining us. It is a crucial part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information. The crucial public interest role served by the media is the reason journalism is covered by data protection law.

“The law includes important provisions that enable journalism, whilst also protecting people by ensuring that personal information is used lawfully. Our code strikes the right balance between supporting journalists’ work and protecting people’s personal information by providing clear and practical guidance on how to comply with data protection law.”

Well, let’s hope he’s right.  Dry though it is, data protection cannot be ignored, and when breaches of the law are alleged, it’s a painful process to get to the bottom of what happened – and even more painful to try to extricate yourself from the problem.  Trust me, I’ve been there!

In order for the Code to come into force, it needs to complete the statutory process set out in the DPA 2018 and be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State.  Presumably, this will not be a disputed exercise.

Although there is nothing new to be found within the Code, the publication of an easy-to-use guide setting out the existing legal principles with suggested strategies for best practice in what is a notoriously complex area of law, will be a welcome addition to the toolkits of journalists, from the newest of trainees to the most experienced of editors.

And for the especially keen amongst you, perhaps this is just the Summer reading you have been waiting for!