Cyprus Commissioner’s Fine on newspaper confirmed by Supreme Court

02 Apr 2019
Cyprus Commissioner’s Fine on newspaper for disclosing child’s name and health problem confirmed by Supreme Court

The Cyprus Commissioner for Personal Data Protection had imposed a fine on a local newspaper due to the disclosure of a child’s name and his health problem.  The fine had been cancelled by the First Instance Court. However, the Supreme Court’s decision published on the 1st of March 2019 reversed the First Instance Court’s decision by rejecting the newspaper’s claims and confirming the Commissioner’s fine.

In 2009 a newspaper published an article about a Court’s decision that acquitted four doctors in a paternity case. These doctors have been accused of not disclosing information necessary for finding out the child’s father. After their acquittal, the newspaper reproduced the Court’s decision in order to inform the public and repair the doctor’s reputation who has been involved in a criminal case. However, the relevant article mentioned the child’s name and his illness. This reference sensitized the Commissioner for Children’s rights who addressed the case to the Cyprus Commissioner for Data Protection.
After having conducted research on this incident and taken into account the provisions of the Processing of Personal Data (Protection of Individuals) Law (138 (I)/2001), the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection decided to impose a fine of 3.000 Euros on the newspaper. Part of the Commissioner’s reasoning was that the publication of the child’s sensitive personal data was not compatible with the proportionality principle because the aim pursued by the newspaper did not justify the publication of the child’s sensitive data and as a result, the right to respect one’s private and family life was infringed (art. 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

The newspaper appealed to the First Instance Court to cancel the fine. It argued that the sensitive data collection and processing were allowed as long as they were done with the aim of informing the public about criminal prosecutions. In addition, they mentioned the fact that these sensitive data were included in the Court’s decision which was a public document. The First Instance Court agreed with the newspaper arguments and cancelled the Commissioner’s decision. According to the Court, the newspaper’s publication was the republication of what the Court’s decision included, and this took place in a good faith.

After Commissioner’s appeal against the First Instance Court’s decision, the Supreme Court of Cyprus found that sensitive personal data should not automatically be considered disclosable just because they are included in a public document, such as a Court’s decision. In addition, under the Art. 6 (2) of the 138 (I)/2001 Law, sensitive data processing operated by journalists and based on their right to information is allowed as long as it does not infringe the right to respect one’s private and family life. In this case, this right was infringed by disclosing the child’s health problem. Consequently, the newspaper did not correctly balance the competing values between the two rights.

For that reasons, the Supreme Court reversed the First Instance Court’s Decision and confirmed the Commissioner’s fine as the right to respect the child’s private and family life overwhelmed the right to information.
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