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10th Dec 2022

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

  • Romania's PM Viorica Dancila says her country's constitution guarantees press freedoms (Photo: European Commission)

Romania's prime minister Viorica Dancila has weighed in on a threat by her country's authorities to impose a €20m fine on investigative reporters for alleged data violations - by telling this website privacy violations must be sanctioned.

"If these rights are not observed, if there is transgressions on confidentiality and private life, these things need to be sanctioned according to European rules," she said on Wednesday (5 December).

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The premier's comments follow threats last month by Romania's data protection chief to impose a €20m fine on the Rise Project, composed of investigative reporters digging into high-level political corruption in a case known as the #TeleormanLeaks.

Dancila also said Romania's constitution guarantees the freedom of expression and opinion for journalists - but then drew a distinction with the European data protection regulation, the GDPR.

"This [freedom of expression] is guaranteed and every journalist enjoys it but at the same time, we do have a European regulation on data protection," she said.

The #TeleormanLeaks investigation involves Tel Drum, a road construction company based in Romania's Teleorman county. The firm is under a fraud investigation over EU funds, and has been linked to Liviu Dragnea, the president of Romania's Social Democratic Party.

The Rise Project had published photos and names on Facebook that reveal a close relationship between Dragnea and Tel Drum executives.

However, Romania's data protection authority now wants the reporters to reveal their sources, under the EU's recent GDPR legislation, claiming the Facebook post may have violated the privacy rights of those implicated in the affair.

The authority cited the GDPR as its basis to subpoena the reporters, prompting a sharp rebuke from both the European Commission and civil society.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB), charged with overseeing GDPR compliance, was set to discuss the matter on Wednesday (5 December) but has since postponed the issue until January.

"There was no time today to discuss a reply on behalf of the chair [Andrea Jelinek]. This topic has been postponed until the January plenary," said an EDPB spokesperson.

Some dozen civil society groups, including Reporters without Borders and Privacy International, in mid-November demanded Jelinek consider whether the request made by Romania's data chief complies with GDPR and the European charter of fundamental rights.

That response is now also set for January.

In October, Jelinek 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.

Those comments were made before Romania's data protection chief threatened to fine the Rise Project.

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