The recent publication of decision no. 17408/2012 by the Italian Supreme Court appears to shed a fundamental light on the principles destined to apply in Italy with regards to the use of personal (sensible) data forming content of edited press articles.
The case has been judged by the Supreme Court following the condemnation by the first instance Court of a journalist and related editor reporting the sexual habits of Amanda Knox, the US citizen prosecuted for the Meredith Kercher homicide case in Perugia. Amanda Knox had won the first degree claim against author and editor for alleged violation of privacy rules for the publication of personal data protected under the Privacy Code (Legislative Decree no. 196/2003) with regards to her personal sexual habits, which had formed part of the conclusions and evidence produced by the public prosecutor against her during the concluding remarks of the public hearing. The use of such data trespassed the duty to inform, according to Knox’s defence, and violated Article 136 of the Privacy Code rules as well as the specific duty of editing essential and relevant information, stated by Articles 5 and 6 of the Press ethical code.
It is worthwhile noting that the public prosecutor, during his concluding remarks in the first degree homicide case, had linked the habits of Knox to the reconstruction of the tragedy, appearing clear in his line of belief that Meredith Kercher had been killed during what appeared to be a collective sex game.
With regards to the use and publication of personal data in such circumstance, the Supreme Court rejected the first degree decision, stating first and foremost a fundamental principle under which that alleged misuse and violation of privacy rights must be specified in detail. Inasmuch a violation is presumed, the rights allegedly violated must be determined at length, in particular with reference to presumed illicit treatment of personal data by violators. With respect to press coverage and diffusion of data through communication means, Articles 136 and 137 of the Privacy Code, regarding treatment of personal data, do not state a need of consent of use by relevant right owners. The Supreme Court also noted that subsequent Article 139 of such Code stated the general need for the National Press Guild to adopt new ethical rules regarding use of personal data pursuant Article 136, circumstance which never occurred.
With regards to relevance and limitation to use “essential” data, the Supreme Court further clarified that Articles 5 and 6 of the Press ethical code fix a general duty on agents to provide information on facts of public interest, within the essential data limitation. The description of the particular and eccentric circumstances of the case, along with the evidence provided by the public prosecutor during a public hearing, all appear to fall within the scopes of the general duties to inform, and do not appear to violate the stringent rules which apply to the use of personal data. This, in essence, should be the reasoning in the merits, stated the Court, assigning such case to the relevant judgement.