Open letter on the protection of sources

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Civil society and journalists associations urge the Council to protect journalists against
spyware and surveillance in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA)
Dear Deputy Permanent Representatives,
We, the undersigned 80 journalists and press freedom, civil society, trade unions, digital rights
and publishers and broadcasters organisations are writing to voice our concerns on the worrying
developments related to the draft Regulation on the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), in
particular the provisions of Article 4 (“Rights of media service providers”). The latest compromise
text of 24 May poses serious risks to European Union core democratic principles and
fundamental rights, notably press freedoms, freedom of expression and the protection of
In particular, the latest compromise text: (a) maintains and aggravates the Commission’s
proposal which carves out a “national security” exception from the general prohibition to deploy
spyware against journalists; (b) increases the list of crimes that permit surveillance against
journalists and journalistic sources; and (c) eliminates legal safeguards that protects journalists
against the deployment of spyware by Member States.
In order to ensure that the Regulation protects journalists and their fundamental rights, the
Council must instead:
(a) Eliminate the exception for “national security”
The current compromise text, instead of protecting journalists and their sources, will legalise the
use of spyware against journalists. Specifically, the inclusion of a new paragraph 4. stating that
“[t]his Article is without prejudice to the Member States’ responsibility for safeguarding national
security”turns in effect the protections originally afforded by Article 4 into empty shells. Through
this new provision, the Council is not only weakening safeguards against the deployment of
spyware but also strongly incentivises their use based solely on Member States’ discretion.
Hungarian journalist Szabolcs Panyi adequately describes the real threat this provision poses to
“Technical forensic analysis of my phone showed that the Pegasus spyware had been running on
my device for seven months. My surveillance impeded my right to protect my sources of
information. I am an investigative journalist who relies heavily on information from
whistleblowers. In increasingly repressive political environments, like in Hungary, where media is
under government control and pressure, whistleblowers and leaks are the only way left for
investigative journalists to uncover the truth. This is exactly why, under the pretext of vague and
bogus national security reasoning, surveillance is used against journalists in Hungary. It has an
enormous chilling effect, and could make our work impossible. EU leadership in Brussels must
realize that any EU citizen, whether a journalist or a source of a journalist, can become subject
of illegitimate surveillance if certain member states always get away with using ‘national
security’ as a free pass. This makes the EMFA even more essential in protecting the rights of
journalists and freedom of the press.”
Including the “national security” exception without fundamental rights safeguards neglects the
important case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The Court has been
clear that the mere purpose of safeguarding national security cannot render EU law inapplicable
and does not exempt Member States from their obligations to comply with the rule of law.
(b) Restrict the list of crimes that allows repressive measures against journalists and
journalistic sources and prohibit the deployment of spyware
The draft Council position deletes the exhaustive list of crimes set by the Commission in Article
2, paragraph 17 to replace it with the list established in the European Arrest Warrant Framework
Decision conditioned by a maximum detention sentence of at least three years and with all
offences punished by maximum minimum threshold of five-year imprisonment under national
law. This has the effect to massively expand the list of crimes justifying the deployment of
spyware against journalists and journalistic sources, including less severe offences such as
“arson” or “piracy of products”. This is deeply problematic from a fundamental rights perspective.
To abide by the principle of proportionality, it is vitally important to include a proper threshold
that excludes parts of national criminal codes which do not justify intrusive measures under
Article 4(2) point (b). According to the CJEU case law only serious crime is capable of justifying a
serious interference with the fundamental rights of the individual.2
When it comes to journalists
and media workers the threshold must be higher due to the crucial role they play as public
watch-dogs in our democracies.
As assessed by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) in its preliminary remarks3
, the
level of interference of modern spyware with the right to privacy is so severe that it “in fact
deprives” the individual of this right. When the individual is a journalist or a source, it is all the
more clear that even the purpose of protecting national security cannot establish a proper
balance with the interference at stake. In a nutshell, the broad scope of the catalogue of crimes
in point (c) of Article 4(2) opens the door to unacceptable and disproportionate surveillance
against journalists and journalistic sources. If not substantially redrafted, the EMFA would
legalise the silencing of critical voices, reinforcing chilling effects on civic spaces.
(c) Include strong legal safeguards to protect and respect free and independent journalistic
The current proposal of the Council does not include any measures capable of safeguarding
fundamental rights as required by the Treaty on European Union and the Charter of Fundamental
Rights. The EMFA therefore should follow the fundamental standards built in the jurisprudence of
the CJEU and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).4
For example, it must include an
effective, binding and meaningful prior authorisation by an independent judicial authority.
Furthermore, repressive measures under Article 4 (a) and (b) must be necessary, proportionate,
assessed on a case-by-case basis and strictly limited to the most serious crimes.
The testimony of Catalan journalist Enric Borràs Abelló, President of the Group of Journalists
Ramon Barnils and Deputy Director of ARA newspaper shows how crucial legal safeguards are in
the context of state surveillance :
“The list of personalities spied on with Pegasus and Candiru in the so-called Catalangate has, at
the moment 65 names confirmed by NGO Citizen Lab. Three of them are journalists. The
cyberespionage against the Catalan independence movement broke out more than a year ago
and since then the Spanish National Intelligence Center (CNI) has only recognized the espionage
of 18 people linked to the movement. None of them are journalists. The CNI had judicial
1 CJEU, Joined cases 511/18, C-512/18 La Quadrature du Net and others v. Premier ministre and Others (2020). Para. 99
2 Ibid. para. 140.
3 EDPS, ‘Preliminary Remarks on Modern Spyware’ (15 February 2022)
4 CEDH, Telegraaf Media Nederland Landelijke Media B.V. and Others v. the Netherlands. Also: Big Brother Watch and
other v. The United Kingdom.
authorisation to do so in the framework of the terrorism investigation of the [internet-based]
organisation called Democratic Tsunami, which called for several demonstrations in Catalonia.
The investigation of the other 47 cases perpetrated without judicial authorisation remains
without a response from national authorities. So far, there isn’t any kind of collaboration from
Spanish intelligence”.
In light of aforementioned points, the undersigned civil society and journalists’ organisations
are urging the Council to reconsider its current position and to build a solid position against the
surveillance of journalists. The Pegasus scandal in Hungary, the Predator case in Greece or the
“Catalan Gate” simply are not tolerable in democratic societies. It is the role of the Council to
make sure to include the highest legal safeguards to protect journalism. Therefore, we sincerely
hope that, in your responsible capacities, you take the urgent and substantial steps to ensure
that the concerns outlined in this letter are addressed appropriately.
We remain at your disposal should you want to further discuss how the Council can ensure that
its general approach to the EMFA enhances fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law –
the foundations on which the European Union is based.

  1. Access Info Europe
  2. Access Now
  3. ActiveWatch, Romania
  4. ApTI – Asociatia pentru Tehnologie si Internet, Romania
  5. Article 19
  6. Association of Commercial Television and Video on Demand Services in Europe (ACT)
  7. Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Cyprus
  8. Association of Professional Journalists, Albania
  9. Belarusian Assotiation of Journalists (BAJ), Belarus
  10. CFDT-Journalistes, France
  11. Citizen D / Državljan D, Slovenia
  12. Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)
  13. Civil Rights Defenders, Sweden
  14. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  15. Croatian Journalists Association
  16. Cultural Broadcasting Archive, Austria
  17. Culture and Mass-Media Federation FAIR-Media Sind and Romanian Trade Union of
    Journalists, Romania
  18. Danish Union of Journalists, Denmark
  19. Deutsche Journalistinnen und Journalisten Union (dju) in ver.di, Germany
  20. Deutscher Journalisten-Verband (DJV), Germany
  21. Digitalcourage, Germany
  22. Digital Citizenship (DCO)
  23. Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), The Netherlands
  24. Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi ry), Finland
  25. Electronic Frontier Norway (EFN), Norway
  26. Estonian Association of Journalists, Estonia
  27. European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
  28. Eurocadres
  29. European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL)
  30. European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  31. European Digital Rights (EDRi)
  32. European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT)
  33. European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  34. European Partnership for Democracy (EPD)
  35. European Publishers Council (EPC)
  36. European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE)
  37. European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)
  38. Federazione Nazionale Stampa, Italy
  39. Finnish Union of Journalists, Finland
  40. Flemish Association of Journalists, Belgium
  41. Free Press Unlimited, the Netherlands
  42. Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation, Poland
  43. Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
  44. Gong, Croatia
  45. Group of Journalists Ramon Barnils, Spain
  46. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
  47. Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuania
  48. Hungarian Press Union, Hungary
  49. Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), Serbia
  50. Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina, Serbia
  51. industriAll Europe
  52. International Press Institute
  53. Internews Europe
  54. IT-Pol, Denmark
  55. Jouralismfund Europe
  56. Journalists’ Association of Serbia (JAS-UNS), Serbia
  57. Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), Turkey
  58. La Quadrature du Net, France
  59. Latvian Journalist Union, Latvia
  60. Ligue des droits humains (LDH), Belgium
  61. Lithuanian Union of Journalists (LZS), Lithuania
  62. Media Diversity Institute
  63. News Media Europe
  64. Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  65., Italy
  66. Peace Institute, Slovenia
  67. PEN International
  68. Portuguese Union of Journalists (SINJOR), Portugal
  69. Reporters without Borders (RSF)
  70. Serbian Union of Journalists (SINOS), Serbia
  71. Society of Journalists, Warsaw, Poland
  72. South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  73. Statewatch, UK
  74. Swedish Union of Journalists, Sweden
  75. Syndicat national des journalistes (SNJ), France
  76. Syndicat national des journalistes CGT (SNJ-CGT), France
  77. Trade Union of Croatian Journalists, Croatia
  78. Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (TUMM), Montenegro
  79. TUC Nezavisnost, Serbia
  80. Wikimedia Europe