Data Protection Act should not hinder freedom of expression, say NGOs

“Instead of wasting time on pursuing this ill-advised case, the government should dedicate its resources to the real issue in this matter, which is to clamp down on the illegal hunting of birds.”

Birdlife Malta were charged with breaching the Data Protection Act in connection with PAckham's documentary.
Birdlife Malta were charged with breaching the Data Protection Act in connection with PAckham's documentary.

The Data Protection Act cannot be used to hinder NGO’s right to freedom of expression, Din l-Art Helwa (DLH) said in a statement.

DLH expressed its concern at the recent decision by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner - as reported in the press - to charge Birdlife Malta with an alleged breach of the Data Protection Act in connection with a series of films by British journalist, Chris Packham, during the 2014 spring hunting season.

In April of this year, BBC journalist and naturalist Chris Packham visited Malta to carry out a documentary on the widespread nature of spring hunting in Malta. BirdLife Malta, who collaborated with Packham throughout the series, were later charged with filming the hunters without their consent.

In its statement today, Din l-Art Helwa said that one should not “restrict” the other. “The Data Protection Act cannot be used to inhibit freedom of expression,” it read. “In this case, the journalist who uploaded his films onto the internet was exercising his right of freedom of expression as well as his journalistic freedom, and the Data Protection Act cannot be used to restrict such rights.”

The decision to charge Birdlife Malta with the abuse of personal data because the filming was carried out “with the support of Birdlife Malta” appears to go completely against the spirit of the Data Protection Act, it said.

“This decision reflects badly on the right to freedom of expression for civil society in Malta, and Din l-Art Helwa maintains that the government should look into the matter and also update the existing legislation if necessary to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is adequately safeguarded.”

“Instead of wasting time on pursuing this ill-advised case, the government should dedicate its resources to the real issue in this matter, which is to clamp down on the illegal hunting of birds.”

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