Court dismisses Daphne Caruana Galizia’s posts as ‘gossip’ and intrusion in Pullicino Orlando’s private life

The Court of Appeal confirmed a previous decision which found that photos of Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando published on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog were in breach of the Data Protection Act

An appeals court has confirmed that Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando was right to complain about a breach of privacy about photos posted on Daphne Caruana Galizia's blog
An appeals court has confirmed that Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando was right to complain about a breach of privacy about photos posted on Daphne Caruana Galizia's blog

Several blog posts by Daphne Caruana Galizia on Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando constituted an intrusion in his private life, a court of appeal has ruled.

The blog posts, which consisted mainly of photos, were published on the late journalist’s blog between 2010 and 2016.

Judge Anthony Ellul said the posts were “gossip” and unrelated to Pullicino Orlando’s public role.

He ruled that the court had “no doubt that [these particular posts about Pullicino Orlando] are nothing more than gossip that interests those with nothing better to do and who have a thirst for news about people’s private lives”.

Ellul delivered judgment in the appeal filed by the Data Protection Commissioner against a decision of the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal which found that the photos were in breach of the Data Protection Act.

The court rejected the Data Protection Commissioner’s appeal.

Pullicino Orlando's original complaint

Pullicino Orlando had filed a complaint with the Data Protection Commissioner over a series of photos published on Caruana Galizia’s blog, however the complaint was rejected. The commissioner had decided that no violation of Pullicino Orlando’s data protection rights had occurred.

In that ruling, the commissioner said: “This decision has been reached after taking specific account of the facts that the complainant is a public person and the reported activities did not happen in a secluded place which is exclusively available to the data subject.”

The commissioner had also argued that the posts did not “reveal or expose any pieces of personal data which the general public could have never become aware of”.

The case was then considered by the Tribunal who found that the publication of all but one of the photos breached the provisions of Data Protection Act relating to the processing of data.

The tribunal sent the case back to the commissioner and ordered that it be reconsidered.

A photo of Pullicino Orlando travelling to Sicily using the car provided to him by the state given his role as Malta Council for Science and Technology chairman.

On the remaining photos the tribunal said that the information published by the blogger on her blog was “mere gossip (kurżita) and nothing else”. It ruled that there was no aspect of public interest regarding what Pullicino Orlando did in his private life without it impinging on his public role.

The tribunal quoted from a European Court decision which said that “activities may be classified as journalistic if their sole object is the disclosure to the public of information, opinions or ideas, irrespective of the medium used to transmit them”.

The tribunal said there was no doubt that the activities carried out by Pullicino Orlando in his private family life did not constitute public information and their publication was not protected by the Data Protection Act or the country’s press laws.

Data Protection Commissioner appealed

The decision was appealed by the commissioner and the ruling on that appeal was delivered today.

The court pointed to two instances in which the commissioner appeared to contradict previously made observations about whether the photos constituted personal data and whether their publication could be considered the processing of that data.

In deciding the appeal, the court pointed to the fact that the legal definition of personal data was broad enough to include the uploading in real-time of a person’s geographical location.

Moreover, Caruana Galizia receiving the photos and uploading them to her blog constituted the processing of that data.

The court stressed on the need for a balance between freedom of expression and one’s right to privacy. “A balance must be found between the two fundamental rights. Obviously, where there is, for example, a debate of public interest, there can be little scope for the restriction of one’s right to disseminate information because the public has a right to know,” observed the court.

It further said that it had “no doubt that [these particular posts about Pullicino Orlando] are nothing more than gossip that interests those with nothing better to do and who have a thirst for news about people’s private lives”.

Judge Ellul ruled: “The court, without hesitation, declares that there is no public interest in readers having that sort of information about [Pullicino Orlando].”

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