ICO finds in favour of campaigning charity

Global Witness is entitled to the protection of the DPA’s exemption for journalism

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has decided that the work of the charity Global Witness can come within the scope of the “journalistic exemption” in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). Global Witness, which investigates and campaigns on the economic interests at stake in conflict, corruption and environmental destruction in the developing world, has been investigating diamond millionaire Beny Steinmetz and his company, BSGR. Steinmetz controversially acquired a valuable mining concession in Guinea from the then-President, before a change of regime in the African country saw them removed from BSGR.

Steinmetz and three other individuals had made a request to Global Witness under s. 7 of the DPA for access to the personal data held on them by the organisation. They brought High Court proceedings for breaches of the DPA. Global Witness refused the requests and relied on s. 32 of the DPA, which provides for an exemption from the provisions of s. 7 if, amongst other things, the processing of the personal data “is undertaken with a view to the publication by any person of any journalistic, literary or artistic material”.

In its decision, an assessment of the data controller’s compliance with the DPA made under s. 42, the ICO held that it was likely that Global Witness had complied with the requirements of the DPA in these cases, in that it could rely on the s. 32 exemption to withhold the personal data requested. Significantly, the ICO referred to its Data protection and journalism guide for the media, in which it had accepted that non-media organisations could invoke to exemption if their purpose in processing the specific information was to publish information, opinions or ideas for general public consumption. The ICO decided that a non-media organisation such as Global Witness could invoke the exemption notwithstanding that they were not professional journalists, and that the planned publication was part of a wider campaign to promote a particular cause.

Read a more in depth commentary on the assessment and s. 32 of the DPA by Gervase de Wilde of 5RB here.