The GDPR One Year Later: Protecting Privacy or Preventing Access to Information?

Article by Amy Kristin Sanders

This Essay explores the tension between personal privacy and freedom of information is readily felt under the GDPR, which includes several provisions that pit individuals' right to control their information against the public's right of access to that information and journalists' ability to report on matters of public concern. Ultimately, the new law's long-term effect on journalism and freedom of information remains to be seen. But even less than one year after the regulation's implementation, there is cause for great concern that individual privacy rights will be elevated at the expense of society's right to learn about matters of public concern.

Part II of this Essay briefly outlines key elements of the GDPR and its predecessor, the Data Protection Directive, the European Union's first comprehensive data privacy regulation, which took effect in 1995. Part III discusses the major theories that support access to information, with particular emphasis on Alexander Meiklejohn's self-governance theory and Vincent Blasi's checking value. Part IV critically analyzes the GDPR's constraints on journalistic news gathering and access to information, pointing to specific examples where the regulation negatively impacted the news media's ability to carry out its watchdog function and disseminate information to readers. Further, the discussion addresses the effect that such limitations have on the press in conjunction with citizens' ability to remain informed about matters of public concern in their communities. The Essay concludes with a call to regulators and jurists to critically examine the balance between privacy rights and access to information in light of international laws and treaties that emphasize a strong respect for both values. The author suggests the key to the GDPR's success requires data protection officials and judges to seriously evaluate situations in which privacy and freedom of the press appear to conflict.

About the Author

Amy Kristin Sanders: Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin.


93 Tul. L. Rev. 1229 (2019)