Charities that carry out investigative work or campaigning are able to use the ‘journalism exemption’ from the Data Protection Act, according to the latest guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office.
The Data Protection Act applies to any organisation processing information about people, but there is an exemption to protect journalists collecting information about individuals that is in the public interest and with a view to publication.
In recently-published guidance for journalists the ICO said: “We also accept that non-media organisations may be able to invoke the exemption."
The guidance explains that if a charity’s reason for collecting information is to “to publish information, opinions or ideas for general public consumption” it can be considered “journalistic purpose – even if they are not professional journalists”.
It adds that: “However, the information must be used only for publication, and not for the organisation’s other purposes.”
The guidance also makes it clear that there is no set test for what is in the ‘public interest’ and that using the journalism exemption should be done on a case-by-case basis.
Mairead O’Reilly, senior associate at Bates Wells Braithwaite, said the revised guidance was “an excellent result for charities” who “might for instance be collecting personal information with a view to publishing a report or carrying out an investigation in furtherance of their charitable objectives”.