Investigative journalists who breach data protection rules could face two years’ jail
Leveson suggests what opponents immediately described as 'chilling' changes to protections given to journalists handling 'private' informationDavid Cameron said he was 'instinctively concerned' about the plans
10:16 GMT, 30 November 2012
Lord Justice Leveson suggests what opponents immediately described as 'chilling' changes to protections given to journalists who are handling 'private' information
Investigative journalists who breach data protection rules could be jailed for two years under proposals in the Leveson report.
The judge also suggests what opponents immediately described as ‘chilling’ changes to protections given to journalists who are handling ‘private’ information.
Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg raised serious concerns about the proposed changes to the Data Protection Act, which currently gives a wide exemption to public-interest journalism.
In the Commons yesterday Mr Cameron said he was ‘instinctively concerned’ about the plans.
Liberal Democrat sources went further, warning that the proposals could have a ‘chilling effect’ on investigative journalism operating in the public interest.
They said the measures raised eyebrows because they were completely unexpected and had had not been discussed in detail during the inquiry.
Currently, journalists are allowed to hold personal information about criminals, corrupt politicians and rogue traders whom they are investigating without falling foul of privacy law.
Unlike the government agencies and private companies, journalists do not have to comply with strict rules about how private information must be handled.
But Lord Justice Leveson proposes removing a number of key legal protections offered to journalists under the Data Protection Act.
He also suggests that punishments for breaches of the Act should be increased from an unlimited fine now to a jail term of up to two years.
Leveson proposes changing the law so that personal data can be held only if it is absolutely necessary for a specific article which is set for publication.
It would undermine investigations which take a long time and involve gathering information which might ultimately never be used.
Personal data used by journalists can include bank account statements showing illegal payments made to crooked officials or credit card receipts proving abuse of taxpayers’ money.
In the Commons yesterday Mr Cameron, pictured, said he was 'instinctively concerned' about the plans
Responding to the report in the Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron said it proposed ‘some changes to the Data Protection Act that would reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data’.
‘We must consider this very carefully – particularly the impact this could have on investigative journalism.
‘While I have only been able to make preliminary investigations about this since reading the report, I am instinctively concerned about this proposal.’
The report proposes making it harder for journalists to gather personal information without falling foul of the law.
Journalists who are publishing personal information would no longer be able to justify it on the grounds that they have a right to freedom of expression.
In addition, they would no longer be exempt from particular parts of the Act, such as subject access requests.
This change might allow anyone who is the subject of an investigation to demand to see what information a newspaper holds about him or her.
Judge plays down internet use of naked Harry shots
Lord Justice Leveson ruled that worldwide circulation of pictures showing Prince Harry, pictured, naked did not justify their publication in British newspapers.
Just nine pages of Lord Justice Leveson’s 2,400-page report focused on news on the internet.
In it, he ruled that worldwide circulation of pictures showing Prince Harry naked did not justify their publication in British newspapers.
Photographs showing the prince after a game of ‘strip billiards’ in Las Vegas were viewed by millions on the internet after they appeared on a US gossip website and social media sites including Facebook.
But Lord Justice Leveson said that was no justification for them appearing in a British newspaper.
Parents could stop their children from accessing the pictures on the internet but would find it difficult to stop them seeing the images in newspapers, he said.
His comments appeared to contradict repeated warnings from internet safety campaigners that children access the internet on smartphones and laptops regularly without their parents’ knowledge.
Lord Justice Leveson said: ‘To some extent, parents can control what their children can access on the internet: if they take their child into a newsagent, garage or supermarket – or past a news stall – the control that they must be entitled to exercise is lost.’
In Britain, the Sun was the only newspaper to publish the Harry pictures after Prince Charles instructed lawyers to threaten legal action for infringing his son’s ‘privacy’.
The Sun claimed the prince had ‘compromised his own privacy’ and it was ‘perverse’ for newspapers not to publish the shots when they were freely available on the internet.
Lord Justice Leveson said there was a legitimate public interest in raising questions over Harry’s conduct, and the remit of his protection officers who seemingly allowed the prince to invite strangers to his hotel room for the naked romp.
But he said that debate did not require the publication of the photographs. ‘The fact that something is on the internet does not justify its publication in a newspaper.’ No formal complaint was made by the Palace.
A month later, a French magazine published photographs of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless and they were subsequently circulated on websites.
VIDEO: See Leveson's statement for yourself, in full, here