Italian La Repubblica investigative journalist appeals freedom of information decision against Metropolitan Police Service

An appeal by Stefania Maurizi, a journalist with La Repubblica, is being heard today in the First-Tier Tribunal. Ms Maurizi is represented by Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers and Estelle Dehon of Cornerstone Barristers.

This appeal raises a general question of law of importance for all journalists: whether a data subject can give consent to the disclosure of personal information to another person under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and, if so, what form of consent is required in order to permit such disclosure.

In 2017 Ms Maurizi, an investigative journalist, applied to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for information held by it in correspondence with the US Department of Justice (US DOJ) relating to three named individuals who work or have worked for Wikileaks: Joseph Farrell, Sarah Harrison and Kristinn Hrafnsson.

Her request followed the revelation in late 2014 that Google had been served with a secret search warrant served by the US DOJ in March 2012, which had required Google to hand over all of the emails of Mr Farrell, Ms Harrison and Mr Hrafnsson. Google had handed over that information, but did not inform them that they had done so until 23 December 2014. When the subpoena became public, concern was raised by WikiLeaks’ US defence counsel in relation to the ability of Mr Hrafnsson, Ms Harrison or Mr Farrell to protect their rights to “privacy, association and freedom from illegal searches”. Counsel for the American Council for Civil Liberties (ACLU) raised concern about the “shockingly broad” wording of the warrants and the First Amendment concerns raised by handing over information from the accounts of WikiLeaks’ journalists and employees.

Ms Maurizi made the request to the MPS to better understand what role, if any, the UK authorities played in cooperating with the investigation. She obtained and provided to the MPS the specific, written consent of the three named individuals to the disclosure of their personal data to her. The MPS refused to confirm or deny any information was held on the grounds that it would disclose personal data about the three named individuals pursuant to s. 40(5), FOIA and the Information Commissioner upheld the MPS’s refusal.

Ms Maurizi argues that the disclosure complies with data protection principles because she has the explicit and informed consent of the data subjects. She also argues that there is substantial public interest in the disclosure of the information to understand what role the British police are playing in the largest criminal investigation in US history into a publisher, including accessing the information of and investigating the role of British journalists and editors, based in the UK, for publishing truthful information.

Short videos about the case are available here, here and here.