Data protection and journalism
where practical, telling the person you are collecting the information
from, and the person the information is about (if different), who you
are, and what you are doing with their information,
only using someone’s information as they would reasonably expect.
We understand you will not always want to notify individuals that you are
investigating them. You will need a valid reason to do this, and the
justification should reflect the privacy intrusion. We recognise that
notifying individuals can be impractical or undermine the journalistic
activity. This can be enable the section 32 exemption to be considered but
you should always consider whether notification is possible, and at
different stages of the story or investigation.
If you do need to use undercover or intrusive covert methods to get a
story, such as surveillance, you may do so if you reasonably believe that
these methods are necessary (in other words it is not reasonably possible
to use a less intrusive way to obtain the information) and the story is in
the public interest. To establish whether covert investigation is justified in
the public interest, you must balance the detrimental effect that informing
the data subject would have on the journalistic assignment against the
detrimental effect employing covert methods would have on the privacy
of any data subjects. The importance of the story, the extent to which the
information can be verified, the level of intrusion and the potential impact
upon the data subject and third parties are all relevant factors. Section 2
explains how the exemption for journalism might apply in relation to
Even if covert investigation can be justified, you should still consider
whether you can inform the data subject about the information collected
once it has been gathered.
The DPA gives more protection to some categories of information that it
classes as sensitive. In particular, you should ensure you have an
appropriate public interest justification before collecting information about
someone’s health, sex life or allegations of criminal activity. See section 2
on the 1st Principle, for more detail.
Although there is a broad exemption for journalism from many provisions
of the DPA, this does not exempt you from prosecution under section 55.
It is an offence if you knowingly or recklessly obtain personal data from
another organisation without its consent (eg by blagging, hacking or other
covert methods). There is a public interest defence to this offence, but
currently this holds you to a stricter standard than the usual exemption
for journalism. You should therefore be confident about your public
interest justification before using such methods.