privacy ners

conversation, and that’s why my next uninvited email came from a PR agency telling me that Liverpool is the capital of happy marriages. This may well be true, but why tell me? And where did they get my private address? From the Gorkana database owned by Cision, natch. Of course, there is an upside to most things. For some

journalists, particularly freelances, this free-for-all may be a godsend, bringing them into contact with sources they might otherwise not know about, triggering ideas they can turn into income. I understand that. However, there are legal issues here as well as professional ones (see box below). The GDPR – the General Data Protection Regulation – introduced last year has officially curbed the excesses of invasion into personal information. That’s the idea at any rate and it has certainly frightened the PR people. The CIPR advises its members that recording, storing or using journalists’contact information, including work or corporate email addresses and social media accounts, means ‘you are processing their data’ and they have the same privacy rights as any data subject. They also say there is a grey area around pleas of ‘legitimate interest’ that could override privacy rights, the scope of which will probably have to be settled legally at some stage. Finally, there is a political dimension. PR people and lobbyists probably outnumber bona fide journalists by five to one. The lobby industry is worth £2 billion a year, says awkward-squad reporter Michael Crick. It is said to be ‘the next big scandal’ after MPs’ expenses. Let’s be clear. This is not Turkey or China, where they lock

up journalists, or Russia, where they shoot us. Database activity is not unlawful in itself and most list providers are careful to provide a lawful basis for the processing. However, it is a business practice many find uncomfortable and one that may sit uneasily with privacy rights. Roxhill could not or would not say where they got my

email address. Social media, they suggested. But I have never had anything to do with all that rubbish. My name has now been removed from the company’s hit list. Yours is probably still on it. You have been warned.

Databases and you: the law

JOURNALISTS HAVE a right to privacy, just like any other citizen. The Information

Commissioner, whose job it is to enforce data protection laws, publishes a 10-point

list of rights that are safeguarded. An organisation must

inform you if it is using your personal data, and provide the following information: • Why it is using your data

• What type of data it uses • How long it will be kept • Telling you who gets to

see the data • Telling you if data is going

overseas, and where • Your information rights

• Where the data is from (a

crucial one, this) • If data is used in profiling

performance at work, health, economic situation, preferences and interests • How to contact the

database organisation • Your right to complain

to the Information Commissioner’s Office. This is called ‘the right to

be informed’ and, if you think a database company is flouting these provisions, you can use a template letter on the ICO website to make a complaint.

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