EU lawmakers voted on Thursday to change the rules on protecting trade secrets in a move that critics believe could have a chilling effect on media freedom.
The vote follows three years of negotiations with the European Commission and EU governments. The EU executive first proposed the common rules in 2013.
It will introduce an EU-wide definition of what amounts to a trade secret; the aim is to protect European companies from spying by global rivals.
Last June, a petition organised by journalists amassed over 500,000 signatures over fears that the move could potentially criminalise whistleblowers and the media.
Critics say the wording of the legislation is not specific enough and that reporters still could potentially be prosecuted.
“These new rules on ‘trade secrets’ leave the door open to abuse by unscrupulous businesses across Europe,” said Julia Reda, a German MEP who sits with the Green group in the European Parliament.
“The unnecessarily broad definition of what constitutes a ‘trade secret’ will enable corporations to keep information secret with a view to circumventing legislation, even when this information should by rights be in the public domain,” “she said in a statement on her website.“https://juliareda.eu/2016/04/trade-secrets-rules-open-the-door-to-abuse/
That charge is refuted by Constance Le Grip, the French centre-right MEP who was charged with steering the bill through the European Parliament.
“Whistleblowers, because of their mission to protect general and public interest, cannot be accused under the terms of this directive – they are, as well as journalists, exonerated,” she told euronews in an interview in Strasbourg.
The parliamentary approval comes ten days after the Panama Papers ‘tax avoidance’ scandal ensnared top names from the worlds of politics, business and sport.