Today's Editorial

09 September 2018

Press freedom protected under Srikrishna panel's data protection Bill

Source: By Somesh Jha: Business Standard

The country's first proposed data protection law seeks to provide freedom to journalists writing news reports or opinion pieces that might contain personal and "sensitive personal data". The draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, has put data gathered for 'journalistic purposes' in the exempt list. This means the provisions of the proposed Bill will not apply to journalists and, in some cases, citizen journalists.

However, journalists will have to adhere to the code of ethics prescribed by the Press Council of India (PCI) or "any media self-regulatory organisation". A committee of experts, led by former Supreme Court judge B N Srikrishna, submitted its report on data protection along with a draft law to the Union government. Journalists will be exempted from seeking the consent of individuals before collecting and reviewing their personal data to be used in a news report.

Journalists will not be obliged to share the reason behind collecting personal data with individuals. "It would be impractical to expect a journalist to specify in exact terms the purposes the personal data is being collected for," the Srikrishna panel report said, adding, "Purpose limitation will not apply, though to the extent possible, journalists should still be expected to outline the broad contours of the purpose for which the personal data is being collected, with the final purpose being the publishing of news on the subject." According to the proposed law, the purpose of processing or collecting personal data must be specified by both government and private agencies or individuals.

Legal experts praised the intent behind the proposed law in protecting the right to freedom of press. "In our judicial history, there were clashes between right to privacy and right to freedom of speech, which included the right for journalists to report. The data protection Bill could have gone either way or the fact that the freedom of press has been given due importance should be praised. Further, under the proposed law, the personal data will be stored for a specific period of time that is necessary to fulfil the purpose for which the data was collected, known as storage limitation, following which it has to be deleted.

"However, to cover new stories journalists may often need to reach for past records of data and the deletion of personal data collected post publishing may make it very difficult to do so. Therefore, under the journalistic exemption storage limitation should not apply so long as it is clear that the personal data is being stored for only for further journalistic purposes," the panel's report stated.

The panel also urged the PCI and other media watchdogs to incorporate provisions for data privacy in their code of ethics so that the exemption provided to journalists under the proposed data protection law "does not lead to undue violation of the data protection rights" of individuals. Requests to implement data principal rights -- like the right to access, confirm and correct -- can be refused by journalists, both before and after the publication of a news report, according to the panel. "An exemption from this obligation may also be necessary to stop persons from harassing journalists by inundating them with requests with a view of blocking or slowing down investigation or publishing of a piece of news," the panel said.

The panel acknowledged that the definition of journalism is continuously expanding. For instance, it noted, citizen journalists also help disseminate news through the internet and, therefore, sticking to the definition of journalists as only those employed by a media organisation "would exclude a sizeable proportion of people who disseminate news to the public". "Thus, factors such as how often a person does activities for a journalistic purpose or whether they obtain their livelihood from carrying out activities for a journalistic purpose may be better suited in determining who a journalist is. According to the provisions of the draft Bill, sensitive personal data includes passwords, financial data, sex life, sexual orientation, and religious & political beliefs, among other things.



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