EP vote for Strengthened EMFA, but Deplores Conditional Use of Spyware 

The European Parliament (EP) adopted with an overwhelming majority its position on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The European Parliament showed its commitment to preserving and promoting media freedom in an ever more hostile and fragile media environment, but it did not include the total ban on spyware in the regulation.  

The Media Diversity Institute (MDI) together with 79 organisations called on the members of the EP to ensure meaningful protection for journalists by including a total ban on spyware in the regulation.  

“The MEPs have improved the Commission text by getting it in line with Council of Europe standards, they argue that the use of spyware may only be justified as a ‘last resort’ measure, on a case-by-case basis, and if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking. The text says that it cannot result in access to journalistic sources, but the EFJ doubts this with ever more intrusive digital technology being used,” said the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).  

The EMFA will create the first European legal framework to protect journalists and media service providers from intrusive surveillance technologies. The diverse coalition of organisations representing civil society, media, and journalism have been campaigning for the regulation to achieve what it set out to do by including a full ban on the use of spyware against journalists. 

“Spyware is a powerful tool that puts journalistic work, freedom of expression and ultimately, democratic values in danger. Its capacity to access all data and take full control of a device cannot be technically restricted. Once a journalist’s device is infected, nothing can prevent authorities ‘from retrieving data related to professional activity’ (Article 4.2a, draft report),” says the Open Letter signed by 80 organisations.  

The Parliament’s Civil Liberties (LIBE) committee has already voted on its position on the EMFA. Although they included, in their opinion, strong safeguards, their version of the law would still allow the use of spyware against journalists in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, this opinion does not go far enough and could still lead to abuse, says the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). 

EDRi have consistently advocated for a total ban on spyware within the EMFA. Recognising the grave threat it poses to journalistic independence and citizens’ privacy, the Open letter demonstrates thecommitment to upholding democratic values and safeguarding the rights of journalists. The Open letter underscores a commitment to fostering a media environment free from invasive surveillance, promoting transparency, accountability, and the preservation of fundamental democratic principles.