Publisher not forced to delete archived article on man's spent conviction

Out-Law News | 21 May 2014 | 2:10 pm | 2 min. read

Newspaper publisher Newsquest does not have to remove an old article from its online archive which reports on the conviction of a man for fraud, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has ruled.

The watchdog said that Newsquest was not in breach of UK data protection laws by continuing to publish the story.

It rejected a complaint by a man named in Newsquest's article which claimed that the publisher was obliged to withdraw the article. The man had argued that the article should be removed since his conviction, in 2000, was now considered spent in accordance with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. It was a breach of his privacy rights for the report to remain published as a result, the man claimed.

The ICO said that Newsquest could continue to publish the story because its retention of the man's personal data was in line with an exemption against general privacy obligations which exists for the media under the Data Protection Act (DPA).

Under section 32 of the DPA, media organisations can justify the processing of personal data for a journalistic purpose under certain circumstances. The exemption means those businesses are not obliged to ensure their processing is compatible with one of the six general conditions set out under the Act that govern lawful processing of personal data, which include where organisations have individuals' consent to conduct that processing.

Personal data processing is undertaken in line with the journalistic purpose exemption where a media organisation carries out the processing with a view to publishing a story, where it "reasonably believes that ... publication would be in the public interest", and providing it "reasonably believes" that complying with the need to adhere to one of the six listed lawful grounds for processing under the Act is "incompatible" with the purpose of journalism.

In reaching its decision in the case the ICO said it had broadly interpreted what is meant by 'processing only for the purposes of journalism' under the DPA so as to ensure that freedom of expression rights were properly protected.

The ICO told Out-Law.com that it would not publish details of the case as to do so would be to go against its policy of withholding details of data protection complaints on the basis that they may contain personal data that individuals do not want disclosed. However, the watchdog confirmed that the circumstances of the case were the same as those described in a report published by the Press Gazette, which originally reported on the ruling.

"It is vital for publishers to be able to maintain an accurate archive as this provides a valuable historical record of events as true at the time," media law expert Ian Birdsey of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said.

"The ruling is especially pertinent given recent reports about political parties removing or editing material previously published on their websites ahead of elections. This activity appears to have been driven by the fact political rivals have been using previously published statements to highlight apparent inconsistencies in policies the parties are promoting now. The ICO's ruling is therefore to be welcomed as it acknowledges the importance of a free press in preserving a true account of history," he said.