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Keeping your staff's personal information safe online

Keeping your staff’s personal information safe online

Media law expert Cleland Thom warns of the dangers of mixing business with pleasure.

Personal information

Private material on social networking sites is protected by the media regulatory codes, and the law.
In short – instruct your clients:
1. Never publish personal information anywhere on the web.
2. Assume the content of ALL emails will be published.
3. Never mix business with pleasure on sites like Facebook.

What’s personal

The European Convention on Human Rights gives privacy rights to:
1. Your correspondence – written and digital.
2. Your family life
3. Your private life
4. Your home life
5. Health and medical information

The PCC /Ofcom Codes

Publishing people’s personal information can be a breach of privacy. You may be able to protect clients from breaches.
Just because someone uploads their details and photos to a social networking site like Facebook does not mean they have consented to the media using them.

The media can only publish personal / private information safely if it is in the public interest. And if the person is under 16, exceptional public interest must be proved.

Photos – PCC Code and the DPA

The PCC and the courts make it clear that photos involve a greater invasion of privacy than words.

Photos published in areas of someone’s Facebook that are marked for ‘Everyone’ can be used by the media, though journalists should get consent unless publication is in the public interest.

There are issues with the Data Protection Act, too.

The Information Commissioner says that he treats images published on Facebook as for ‘personal use’ , similar to ‘family albums’.

So the journalist should not publish them without consent , unless there is a clear public interest issue.
Suicides and grief

Clients are entitled to significant protection during times of grief and shock.

The Press Complaints Commission has also issued new guidelines about the reporting of suicides:

1. Photos of victims of suicides, or other deaths on Facebook should not be used without consent of the close family, unless there is public interest in the victim – whether they are obtained from the dead person’s page, or someone else’s.
2. If there is a spate of suicides, photographs of previous victims should not be used each time a new death arises.
3. Excessive detail about suicides (including photos) should not be used.
4. Precise details about methods of suicides should not be reported.
5. Journalists should beware intruding into families’ grief and shock, both with approaches for stories and photos, or with the way stories and photos, including inquests, are presented. Note – these approaches apply to those made through Facebook as well as normal routes like door-knocks, etc. There is no problem in making an approach – but it should not amount to harassment or intrusion.
6. Tributes or comments from tribute sites, or from the Facebook pages of friends of people involved in deaths or accidents are usually safe to use – but again beware intruding into families’ grief and shock.
The law

EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Redding has reminded the media: -European privacy rules are crystal clear: a person’s information can only be used with their prior consent.

The ECHR articles on privacy are worded the same as the PCC and Ofcom Codes. So the advice above applies to privacy law, too.

A reader can deal with an alleged invasion of privacy by a journalist, either under the codes, or through the courts, or both.

Readers are more likely to use the codes, because it is quicker and free.

This extract is taken from the PR Media Law Guide, price £19.95. To order a copy, contact: cleland@ctjt.biz

Cleland Thom does media law training and consultancy to a number of corporation and public authorities, including GPSJ, United Utilities, World Trade Group, Herts County Council, London Borough of Brent and Three Rivers District Council.

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