The European Parliament has taken a significant step to bolster the protection of journalists from government surveillance by agreeing to strengthen safeguards within the proposed European Media Freedoms Act. Originally, the law aimed to restrict the surveillance of journalists and their families, along with banning the use of spyware to target their devices except under specific circumstances.
However, the amended legislation now effectively imposes a comprehensive ban on spyware use within the EU, emphasizing that spyware granting unrestricted access to personal and sensitive data threatens the fundamental right to privacy and is disproportionate under Union law. Negotiations among the Council, Commission, and Parliament will commence later this month to finalize the law.
Furthermore, the European Media Freedoms Act was introduced in response to various incidents where journalists appeared to have been targeted for hacking in politically charged situations across EU member states, including Hungary, Catalonia in Spain, and Greece.
This initiative marks an unusual move for the European Commission, which typically defers to member states on matters of media regulation and security laws, often seen as issues of national sovereignty.
In addition to reinforcing protections for journalists, the version of the law agreed upon by MEPs aims to safeguard journalistic content from arbitrary takedown decisions made by online platforms.
While there have been concerns that EU legislation could potentially undermine end-to-end encryption, the MEPs have called for the promotion and protection of anonymization tools and end-to-end encrypted services used by media service providers and their employees at the Union level. These developments signal a concerted effort to fortify journalist security and uphold press freedom within the European Union.
owever, the fate of the spyware provisions remains uncertain as negotiations proceed. The European Council, comprising ministers from member states, had previously expressed a desire to reduce protections available to journalists from spyware, emphasizing national security interests.
In contrast, Parliament’s version seeks to expand legal protections for journalists to encompass their communications and sources, demanding that any law enforcement action affecting sources be subject to appeal in a court. The protection of journalistic sources is considered vital to safeguarding the watchdog role of investigative journalism in democratic societies, as outlined in Article 11 of the Charter.