With the Panama papers scandal, the Trade Secrets Directive emerges from the shadow and is a source of concern for the defenders of the right to information.
Officially, this directive aims at protecting companies from industrial espionage, and especially SMEs and innovative companies. In 2013, according to the European Commission, one European company in four declared to have been through information theft. With this directive, every company will be able to determine if a piece of information can be unveiled or not. And violators will be prosecuted.
However, the notion of “trade secrets” is quite unclear: according to article 2, data are considered confidential if they are not generally known from the people belonging to the field normally aware of this kind of information. This vagueness can trigger abuses from companies to determine which piece of information is confidential.
And what about whistleblowers, journalists or even scientists who may need to make information public in the interest of their work? Would it not prevent the media to unveil affairs as important as the “Panama papers” one?
According to Constance Le Grip, MEP from UMP-PPE, there is no need to worry, as a matter of fact, the directive establishes exceptions among which a legitimate use of the right to freedom of expression and to information as well as the disclosure of a fault, of an embezzlement or of an illegal activity committed by the petitioner. These dispensations are valid when protecting general interest. Besides, it is a framework law which will be adapted in the different member states. So, last Thursday, on April 14th at noon, deputies adopted the Trade Secrets Directive: 503 in favour, 131 against and 18 abstentions.
Nevertheless, in spite of the reassuring tone of the MEP, nothing in the text guarantees that the journalists can’t be condemned for having done their work. And the citizens need to be informed! Investments, tax heavens, redundancies: these events have a direct impact on the population! Immunity can be feared for companies if their fraudulent or abusive doings are hidden.
Moreover, this directive is the result of an unremitting lobbying from multinational companies and the general public has not been informed of its progress. Citizens have not had the opportunity to go into action to modify the text! As an instance, the greens wished that the “trade secret” notion only applied in special cases.
And now, the European Union, this land of asylum for the writer flying from censorship, can condemn whistleblowers…