European Court of Human Rights
16 July 2013

Facts

The applicant, Ms. Nagla, was a journalist who produced and hosted a weekly investigative TV news program ”De Facto”. She was contacted by an anonymous source who revealed that there had been serious security flaws in a database maintained by the State Revenue Service (VID). The applicant publicly announced the data leak during a broadcast of “De Facto”. One week after the broadcast, a person called “Neo” started to publish data through his Twitter account concerning the salaries paid at various public institutions. The investigating authorities established that a person, I.P., had been connected to the database and had also made several calls to Ms. Nagla’s phone number. On the same day I.P. was arrested, Ms. Nagla’s home had been searched and several data storage devices had been seized including a personal laptop.

Complaint

Ms. Nagla complained that she had been compelled to disclose information that had enabled a journalistic source to be identified, and thus her freedom of expression had been violated.

Court's ruling

The Court ruled that the search of Ms. Nagla’s house and seizure of the data storage devices violated her freedom of expression, as the authorities had not weighted whether the interests of the investigation were sufficient to override the public interest in the protection of the journalist's freedom of expression.

The Court found the interference to be "prescribed by law" and that it was aimed at preventing disorder or crime and protecting the rights of others. However, the reasons given by the domestic authorities for the search had not been "relevant" and "sufficient":

  • The journalist’s freedom of expression covers also source protection and access to that information must be protected by adequate safeguards against abuse.
  • A search conducted with a view to identifying a journalist’s source is a more drastic measure than an order to reveal the source’s identity.
  • The data storage devices seized contained information capable of identifying the source of the applicant’s information regarding the data leaks.
  • The right of journalists not to disclose their sources did not depend on the lawfulness of their sources.
  • The applicant was not responsible for disseminating personal data and was not involved in the events other than in her capacity as a journalist.
  • The search was carried out three months after the broadcast and after this day the applicant had not communicated with I.P.
  • The subject-matter on which the applicant reported was a contribution to a public debate, namely, keeping the public informed about the salaries paid in the public sector at a time of financial crisis.

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