The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has delivered a judgment on the protection of personal data and data journalism. The court concluded in Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v. Finland that the decision of the Finnish Data Protection Board prohibiting two media companies from publishing personal data, is to be considered as a legal, legitimate and necessary interference with the applicants' right to freedom of expression and information.
The ECHR were in agreement with the Finnish authorities that the applicants could not rely on the exception of journalistic activities within the law of protection of personal data.
The court agreed that taxation information was a matter of public interest. However, the problematic issue was the extent of the published information by Satamedia, as the Veroporssi magazine published taxation data on around 1.2 million people in 2002. The publishing of taxation information to this extent was therefore not considered as journalism, but as processing of personal data which Satamedia had no right to do.
Satamedia's claim that they had been discriminated against vis-à-vis other newspapers allowed to continue publishing the taxation information in question, was rejected. The Court held that the quantity of data published by Satamedia was clearly greater than elsewhere and therefore could not be compared with other newspapers, and hence there was no discrimination in the terms of Article 14.
The European Court agreed with the Finnish authorities that the applicants could not rely on the exception of journalistic activities within the law of protection of personal data. In finding no violation of the right to freedom of expression and information, the Court not only accepted a restrictive interpretation of the notion of journalistic activity, it also drastically reduced the impact of the right to information on matters of public interest.