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Fears raised over ‘chilling effect’ of Leveson’s data protection proposals

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By John Glenday, Reporter

January 8, 2013 | 2 min read

The fall-out from Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into media ethics are continuing to reverberate with the Information Commissioner becoming the latest critic of proposed reform.

Christopher Graham believes that proposals for tougher data protection laws could have a ‘chilling effect’ on investigative journalism, with Data Protection Act exemptions for journalists pursuing public interest stories being scrapped.

Experts have also raised fears that allowing the subjects of stories access to the information held on them by journalists could lead to anonymous sources being outed.

Leveson has suggested that journalists should only be allowed to handle personal information where it is ‘necessary for publication’, not merely with a ‘view to publication’ as at present.

Graham said: “Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on reforming the Data Protection Act would move the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office] closer to becoming a mainstream statutory regulator of the press. The significance of the proposed changes should not be underestimated. The ICO is not actively seeking a wider role in relation to the regulation of the press. If the ICO is to do more in relation to the press it is likely to be able to do less in areas of even greater public concern.

“The area of subject access is particularly problematic in that there are legitimate concerns about the ‘chilling effect’ Lord Justice Leveson’s proposal might have on investigative journalism.

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