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EU Parliament Boosts Journalists’ Spyware Protections in Media Freedoms Act

 |  October 3, 2023

The European Parliament has taken strides towards enhancing safeguards for journalists against government surveillance as part of its proposed European Media Freedoms Act. The decision, reached on Tuesday, marks a crucial step in ensuring the safety and privacy of journalists within the European Union.

Originally proposed in September of the previous year, the legislation initially sought to prohibit the surveillance of journalists and their families. It also aimed to outlaw the use of spyware to target their devices, permitting exceptions only in cases of “an overriding requirement in the public interest” or “on grounds of national security.” However, the revised version of the legislation, which has been embraced by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), now goes even further by imposing a near-total ban on the use of spyware within the EU.

This updated legislation explicitly states that “Spyware that grants full unlimited access to personal data, including sensitive data, on a device could affect the very essence of the right to privacy and should, therefore, under no circumstance be considered necessary and proportionate under Union law.”

Read more: US/EU: NSA spying backlash hits antitrust world

The road ahead involves negotiations between the Council, Commission, and Parliament to finalize the text of this critical law, and these discussions are set to commence later this month.

The European Media Freedoms Act comes in response to a series of alarming incidents where journalists appeared to have fallen victim to hacking, particularly in politically charged contexts within EU member states. Notable cases have emerged from countries such as Hungary, Catalonia in Spain, and Greece.

This legislative initiative marks a notable departure from the European Commission’s usual role, which traditionally takes a more passive stance on media regulation and security matters, often deferring to member states and their sovereignty.

In addition to its primary goal of shielding journalists from surveillance and cyberattacks, the law also includes provisions to safeguard journalistic content from arbitrary removal decisions by online platforms. This multifaceted approach aims to reinforce media plurality by addressing monopolies and state ownership, further strengthening the rights and protections afforded to journalists within the European Union.