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24th Oct 2020

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

  • Bucharest. The European Commission wants Romanian authorities to give the media more leeway when it comes to data protection (Photo: steve_lynx)

The European Commission has warned Romania not to abuse the EU's new data protection regulation, given recent threats by national authorities in Bucharest to impose a €20m fine on a Romanian media outlet.

Chief European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Monday (12 November) that exemptions on privacy and data protection must be created for the media working in Romania.

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"It is of upmost importance that Romanian authorities implement that obligation in national law, to provide exemptions and derogations to protect journalist sources, in particular, from the powers of the data protection authority," he said.

The comments follow demands by Romania's data protection authority to force journalists working at the Rise Project, an award-winning investigation portal, to reveal their sources in a probe of a top politician accused of corruption.

Ancuta Gianina Opre, Romania's data protection authority, issued the threat in a letter last week - telling the reporters they have ten days to respond to nearly a dozen questions.

Although Ancuta Gianina Opre was appointed to the position by the political party that is under the Rise Project probe, the letter claims she is acting under the powers given to her by the new EU data protection regulation (GDPR).

But article 85 of the GDPR is supposed to give journalists wide leeway.

However, the vague wording of the article does not say how EU states should do it - leaving open a loophole for politicians and people in power to exploit.

Opre's office has yet to respond to EUobserver questions on how it applies article 85, and how it strikes a balance between the freedom of expression and data protection.

For its part, the commission says it is now analysing Romania's exemptions and derogations for journalists, to see if they conform to the regulation.

Andrea Jelinek is the chair of the European Data Protection Board [EDPB], charged with overseeing the compliance of the EU's data protection regulation and rules.

Last month, she told this website that politicians using data protection to stop reporters probing how public money is spent is a poor excuse.

"To say or to pretend it is a data protection issue and so you can't investigative, it is just an easy way to keep questions away for those who don't want to answer," she said, speaking in a personal capacity.

Romania 'using EU data protection law to silence journalists'

An award-winning journalism outlet in Romania is being threatened with fines by the country's data protection authorities - for having disclosed connections, on Facebook, of powerful politicians and a firm embroiled in scandal.

Romania data chief defends forcing press to reveal sources

Romania's data protection authority is headed by Ancuta Gianina Opre, who in 2017 was charged with abuse of office in her previous job. Last week, she threatened a €20m fine against journalists in their effort to uncover corruption.

Romanian PM wades into '€20m fine for journalists' row

Prime minister Viorica Dancila told EUobserver that Romania's constitution guarantees freedom of expression for journalists - but insisted EU data protection rules must be respected. Her comments follow threats to impose a €20m fine on a group of investigative reporters.

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