Letter: Public interest, private acts

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The Independent Online
Sir: Some of your readers may have wondered whether a Privacy Act, such as the one I introduced in 1989, would have stopped any press investigations into Norman Lamont's financial affairs.

During its parliamentary passage, it was said that my Protection of Privacy Bill would have stopped investigations by the media. In fact, the Bill would have stopped no investigations whatsoever. Rather, it would have stopped merely the publication of non-criminal, private information so gathered (defined in the Bill as including private finances, etc), unless its publication was in the public interest, a concept that British courts have been deciding upon for almost 150 years.

While Mr Lamont's private purchase of wine may have been of considerable interest to the public, it was essentially a private matter and it would have been hard to show that its publication served the public interest in any way whatsoever. That seedy privacy invasion story would, therefore, not have been published.

However, the part payment of a minister's private legal bill, either by the taxpayer or from funds raised from the public by a political party, would obviously be considered a matter of considerable public interest. My Bill would not have hampered either its investigation or its publication.

A Privacy Bill of this type is long overdue to protect the basic human right to privacy of every citizen, which must surely be in the public interest.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN BROWNE

London, SW1

4 December

The writer was MP for Winchester, 1979-92.

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