Saturday, March 01, 2008

Social Networks and Newspapers: drawing the boundaries?

Came across this recent Beeb press release concerning the use of information obtained from social network websites by newspapers including images and texts from Bebo, MySpace and Facebook:

Private data, public interest? (29th February 2008):

The use of material taken from personal profiles on social networks by newspapers is to be the subject of a major consultation undertaken by industry watchdog the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

This comes in the wake of increasingly numbers of newspaper stories that include images and text taken from sites like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook.

But the subjects of press reports are not always happy with the use of content they have uploaded.

Tim Toulmin, director of the PCC, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 says the organisation was getting complaints from people about material, "that is being republished when they themselves are the subject of news stories".

Mr Toulmin says it would be useful to establish principles to guide the press in their use of social network content.

"It's down to the PCC to set the boundaries in a common sense way about what sort of information it is acceptable to re-publish," he says.

To that end the PCC has commissioned research by Ipsos MORI into public attitudes.

The newspaper watchdog wants to discover if people are aware that material they upload could be used in newspaper reports.

It also wants to discover if people would change their behaviour if they knew that information about them could be published in the media.

No doubt, this would need to be assessed in the light of the UK Data Protection Act 1998 and whether the data protection principles is adhered to (just to recap):

"Data Protection Principles

1 Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless—

(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and

(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.

2 Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.

3 Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.

4 Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.

5 Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.

6 Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects under this Act.

7 Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.

8 Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data."

The first data protection principle, whether processing by newspapers constitutes "fair" and "lawful" processing before users' profiles are obtained. What procedures are in place to ensure that personal profiles obtained by newspapers will not be used for any other purpose?"

A second point to consider is whether the processing would be exempt under s 32 of the Data Protection Act 1998, which provides that:

"(1) Personal data which are processed only for the special purposes are exempt from any provision to which this subsection relates if—

(a) the processing is undertaken with a view to the publication by any person of any journalistic, literary or artistic material,

(b) the data controller reasonably believes that, having regard in particular to the special importance of the public interest in freedom of expression, publication would be in the public interest, and

(c) the data controller reasonably believes that, in all the circumstances, compliance with that provision is incompatible with the special purposes."

Special purposes is defined under s 3 of the UK Data Protection Act 1998 as the "processing for the purposes of:

(a) the purposes of journalism,

(b) artistic purposes, and

(c) literary purpose"

Whilst users on websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo should not expect that information they post, is necessarily private, the ICO's guidelines does warn about the types of personal information given on such social networking websites. A general question that is often asked is how do you guarantee that information of users are not obtained out of context? Views welcome.

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