Human rights work under threat from data protection plan

HUMAN RIGHTS organisations are making a last-ditch attempt to persuade the European Commission to drop proposals that could kill off much of their work as well as bringing investigative journalism to a standstill.

The threat comes from a draft directive on data protection, published two years ago, which is on the verge of reaching the Council of Ministers and being given the full force of law.

Aimed at curbing the junk mail industry, the directive says people must be told whenever an organisation intends to collect information about them. Unless they agree in writing, any files must be destroyed.

At first, the proposals won support from consumer groups concerned about the growth of direct mail shots. They pointed out that legislation existed in Britain giving protection against computer-held information and asked why this should not be extended to manual files. But then organisations such as Amnesty International realised what effect the directive would have on their work.

If, for instance, Ammesty wanted to compile a dossier on a prisoner in a South American jail, it would have to get his permission. This would alert the authorities and put the inmate in grave danger, human rights workers say.

The media has also been alarmed by the proposals. The directive might mean that a journalist would have to write to public figures asking if they gave permission for a dossier to be compiled about them.

Thus, newspapers could not keep information on the government scientists criticised by the Court of Appeal for their failings at Judith Ward's trial in 1974. Similarly, attempts to expose Robert Maxwell would have never got off the ground. Alerted to a forthcoming article or television documentary, Mr Maxwell would simply have sought an injunction, lawyers say.

Geoff Hoon, the Labour MEP who produced a report on the directive for the European Parliament, said: 'Imagine having to write to a leading mafiosi, 'Dear Sir, we intend to compile a file on you. Do you mind?' ' In his report, Mr Hoon suggests more than 150 amendments toning down what he sees as the draconian nature of the directive. Among them is a call to drop the proposal that companies should be banned from collecting information unless they have written permission. Instead, organisations should be allowed to compile dossiers unless they are told not to, Mr Hoon says. The key, he believes, is enabling people to check that information held on them is correct. The report, an advisory document only, was adopted by the parliament, which also wanted newspapers and television to be exempted from the directive.

Some members are willing to accept these amendments, although their view may not prevail.

The British Government opposes any measures that go beyond existing data protection legislation but could be outvoted by its European partners.

Last week, Amnesty said: 'If the proposals are implemented in this way they will completely undermine our work. It will be almost impossible.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor