Slow haste on data protection Bill

Letters to the Editor

Slow haste on data protection Bill

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

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Dear Editor,

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) is calling on the Government to pull back, even at this stage, and revise problematic provisions of the Data Protection Act.

The association says its assessment of potential dangers to journalism posed by the initial Bill led to its initial far-reaching submission for the practice of journalism to be exempted from the provisions of the Act.

With the Act having passed both Houses of Parliament, serious concerns remain about the overly broad powers of the information commissioner. Although the Office of the Information Commissioner will now be subject, after the fact, to an oversight committee of Parliament, this does not address the clear and present danger of the chilling effect of the office's decisions on the publication of news.

This concern is shared by the Media Association of Jamaica, which has also expressed disappointment with the passage of the Act.

As we said in our initial submission, “The desire to ensure the independence of the office is understandable and commendable. However, the virtual fiefdom created by the office, and the commissioner's almost complete authority in decision-making means that tremendous power lies in the hands of a single individual.”

Legal action after the fact cannot be the answer. In journalism, where time is often of the essence, and as has been acknowledged by the learned British judge Lord Nicholls, in the seminal case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers, “News is often a perishable commodity.” Forcing disputes through the court system may well result in killing important pieces of journalism and will, arguably, amount to giving a licence to the imposition of prior restraint, long regarded as almost always unacceptable in journalism.

We find it incredible that in all the references to the implementation of data protection legislation in Europe, the negative and problematic effects of that legislation has been ignored by our legislators hell-bent on their own race to the tape of implementation.

Writing in The Atlantic on June 3, 2019, Bernhard Warner wrote that “The European Union tried to protect Internet users. It also gave public officials a blunt instrument to wield against journalists.”

But it is not too late. We call upon the Government to “cry cree”, reconsider, and to remit this legislation to Parliament for reconsideration.

Press Association of Jamaica

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