Media: Newspapers

House of Lords written question – answered on 23rd March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to alter the Information Commissioner's powers to enable him to require newspapers to provide details of their legal protection against the use of confidential information.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I understand the Question to be about the Government's plans, if any, to alter the Information Commissioner's powers to require newspapers to provide him with details of legal advice they have received about their potential use of confidential information.

There are no such plans at present. The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) provides the Information Commissioner with the power to serve information notices, which require data controllers to provide such information as is necessary to determine compliance with the data protection principles. Where an information notice is served on a data controller who processes personal data for the special purposes of journalism, art or literature, the Information Commissioner must first consider whether the data in question might be processed for one or more of those special purposes, and hence whether a special information notice might be more appropriate. Information supplied under a special information notice should allow the Information Commissioner to determine whether information is indeed being processed for special purposes or not. Information processed for special purposes is exempt from certain requirements under the DPA.

Additionally, the DPA provides for the Information Commissioner to carry out a good practice assessment of any processing of personal data, with the data controller's consent, to assess compliance with the data protection principles. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 introduced a new power for the Information Commissioner to serve an assessment notice on government departments which would allow him to enter their premises to assess compliance with the data protection principles without requiring their consent. The Act allows the Secretary of State to extend the assessment notice power to include additional categories of data controllers following a recommendation by the Information Commissioner, consultation with the Commissioner and with the, relevant category of data controllers. Such a recommendation could include newspapers, however, an assessment notice would not permit the Information Commissioner to assess the processing of personal data for one or more of the special purposes.

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