Dublin MEP Nessa Childers warned of the dangers posed to media freedom and citizens’ access to public interest information by legal proposals to establish trade secrets and to pursue those responsible for unauthorised publication in court.
According to Ms. Childers, there is a worrying lack of public awareness and debate surrounding such proposals, which are also under discussion in the US Congress.
Ms. Childers said: “Companies would be empowered to label certain information as too sensitive for publication and seek the punishment of those who disclose them.
“While this can make sense for certain kinds of information you cannot protect from industrial espionage through the means of, say, patent law, such as recipes, concept designs or client data, many want to go much further, by which I mean too far.
“Some go as far as proposing that companies should be allowed not to disclose their annual accounts. I can think of some benefits for some, from these measures, but none in the general interest.
“The definitions of trade secret being advanced by business-friendly politicians are so vague and loose that you can include virtually anything a company wants provided they deemed confidential, commercially valuable and subject to reasonable protection measures on the part of the company.
“The safeguards to the disclosure of information in the public interest are equally vague and we could easily see journalists or NGOs being pursued for doing reputational damage to companies in the public interest, as already happens in the United States, particularly at the food industry’s behest.
“These developments are unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic. Trade secrets are thus probably on track for inclusion in the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and should be an extra source of serious concern about its overall implications.
“Berlusconi’s party members in Parliament have officially proposed to include clinical trial data for medications or toxicology test results from pesticides and food additives within the scope of trade secrets, which is the exact opposite of what we should be doing in the field.”
“These measures have nothing to do with preventing unfair competition, but rather with helping businesses corner certain niches at everyone else’s expense, including innovation.
“There are far too many forms of corporate pressure for media self-censorship out there, and this is the last thing journalists and the public need.”