As data protection law develops, it frequently comes into conflict with freedom of expression. The right to privacy (like data protection) and freedom of expression are in a precarious balancing act and need to be handled carefully. The latest freedom of expression news demonstrates this balancing act.
In recent freedom of expression news, Germany announced that it is has passed a law to deal with hate speech in social media. This new law will require social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove content amounting to hate speech from their sites. The law imposes fines of up to €55 million for failure to remove hate speech within 24 hours. The Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, stated that the law was aimed at removing the ‘verbal law of the jungle on the Internet’.
Germany has enacted a new social media hate speech law
This freedom of expression news has significant implications for the development of freedom expression law in the digital age. Social media companies have resisted this law stating that it infringes on people’s freedom of expression. This raises questions about who are the arbitrators of what constitutes hate speech are. Courts? Or social media platforms organisations? This freedom of expression news is important to take note of because Germany is the world leader in data protection and it is possible that the rest of the world will also follow their lead when it comes to freedom of expression in the digital space.
Freedom of expression news: Stunt v Associated Press
In other freedom of expression news, an English court (Queens Bench Division) upheld the right to freedom of expression over individual data protection rights in the context of journalism in Stunt v Associated Press. The court based its decision on the journalistic exception in the Data Protection Act 1998 (UK). Under this exemption, personal data may be processed for a journalistic purpose provided the data controller reasonably believes that the publication would be in the public interest. If at any time in court proceedings, the data controller can show that the personal data in question falls under this exception they are entitled to a stay in proceedings (i.e. an end to any further legal processes).
In this case, the court did an assessment of the individual data privacy rights and weighed them against the freedom of expression rights in the journalistic context. The court upheld the journalistic exception above the individual rights of the data subject.
English court upheld journalistic freedom of expression
These two pieces of freedom of expression news represent the ongoing difficulty in the relationship between freedom of expression and data protection. This relationship needs to be understood and carefully balanced in contractual and compliance contexts.
Actions you can take
- Find out more about data protection by attending one of our workshops.
- Inform yourself about the data protection laws that might impact on your organisation.
- Ensure that your contracts comply with data protection law and balance data protection and freedom of expression.
- Address specific concerns and issues for your organisation by asking us to draft a bespoke opinion for you.