Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

EU data verdict imminent on Romania's €20m reporters' fine

  • Liviu Dragnea is president of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) (Photo: Partidul Social Democrat)

European data protection authorities have agreed a common position on a threat by Romania's data chief to impose a €20m fine on investigative journalists who exposed high-level corruption in the country.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the EU's data protection supervisor, told EUobserver on Thursday (24 January) that a decision had been reached earlier this week, following weeks of discussion. It is expected to be published imminently.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"We have been discussing this issue in substance, we have heard the Romanian DPA [data protection authority], we identified a balanced solution for an answer, so it has been agreed yesterday," he said.

Romania's data protection authority (DPA) last November ordered the journalists to disclose their sources, on the basis of Europe's recent data protection law, known as the general data protection regulation or GDPR.

The reporters of the Rise Project had been investigating connections between Romanian politicians such as Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party, and a Romanian company involved in large-scale fraud.

Around a week after the reporters exposed the connections on Facebook, Romania's DPA issued the threat of the fine, prompting widespread condemnation from press freedom defenders such as Reporters without Borders and Privacy International.

Buttarelli, citing laws in his home country of Italy, said no public bodies other than the judiciary may have access to journalists' sources, including the DPA.

"Even a public prosecutor is prevented to issue an order, so the source is protected on a choice of the editor and the journalist," he said.

He said article 58 of the GDPR allows data authorities to ask for any information they want - but such demands get tricky when it comes to journalist sources.

"Any action based on an administrative decision by law should be extremely carefully assessed," he said.

Buttarelli also highlighted the jurisprudence of the European courts in Strasbourg and in Luxembourg, which he says make it clear that the projection of journalists' sources is "a cornerstone for the freedom of information".

But he added that another big problem is that the protection of journalistic sources varies across the EU.

"Journalistic sources are not protected in the same way in all 28 countries, that is another problem beyond data protection, it is not only an issue for GDPR," he noted.

The full decision and response by the data authorities on the issue is set to be published on the website of the European Data Protection Board.

Getting off the hook

Romania's prime minister Viorica Dancila had told this website in December that the country's constitution guarantees the freedom of expression and opinion for journalists, but then drew a distinction with the GDPR.

The Romanian data threat comes amid plans by Romania to decriminalise some forms of corruption and grant an amnesty to offenders.

Romania's justice minister also recently proposed an emergency decree that would allow politicians convicted of corruption since 2014 to challenge the verdicts in the supreme court.

Such a decree would likely benefit Dragnea, who was given a suspended jail sentence in 2015 for vote-rigging. The conviction has barred him from becoming prime minister.

He had also been sentenced to three and a half years in prison by Romania's Supreme Court for corruption involving EU funds, in sum that involved €21m.

The EU funds was liked to a road construction firm called Tel Drum, which is also the basis of the investigation by the journalists threatened by Romania's DPA.

Dragnea maintains his innocence and earlier this month filed a lawsuit against the European Commission at the European Court of Justice over the affair.

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.

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Romania's data protection authority has threatened a €20m fine against reporters investigating high-level corruption. The European Commission has since issued a warning, telling Romanian authorities to give press exemptions when it comes to privacy rights.

News in Brief

  1. Estonia kicks out Danske Bank over money laundering scandal
  2. May and Juncker meet over Brexit on Wednesday
  3. EU promises to open up advisory groups
  4. EU agrees to limit CO2 emissions by trucks
  5. Juncker under attack in Hungary government ad
  6. EU would not oppose extending Brexit talks, Juncker said
  7. Juncker expects Trump not to impose new car tariffs
  8. Former EU official sentenced for office rape

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties
  2. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  3. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  4. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  5. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  6. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  7. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  8. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us