The Italian DPA starts an Investigation on the distribution of the video of a sexual assault

With a press release of August 22nd 2022, the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) announced the start of an investigation regarding the distribution of a video related to a sexual assault which happened in Piacenza on August 21st 2022.

The video of the very serious episode, immediately acquired by the investigators, allowed to identify the responsible, but it was also published on the Italian daily newspaper IlMessaggero and shared on different social channel, obtaining in fact a big media coverage within a few hours.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter reacted by blocking the video for being in contrast with the platform rules but the issue had already sparked a media storm which was unleashed following the sharing of the video also by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Italian political party Fratelli d’Italia.

The day following the episode, the Italian DPA announced the start of the investigation in order to verify the possible responsibility of the subjects who “in various capacity and for different purposes” shared the video.

It is not the first time that the Italian DPA intervenes on this matter. Even before the entry into force of the GDPR, the Italian DPA had been obliged to take measures against newspapers which had spread images related to sexual assaults or had disclosed information on the victims (only to mention a few: no. 1090071 of 3.10.2004, no. 1091956 of 4.6.2004, 1536583 of 7.10.2008, no. 1557470 10.2. 2008, no. 1563958 of 10.13.2008, no. 1590076 of 02.16.2009, no. 1696265 of 1.28.2010, no. 1696239 of 2.11.2010, no. 9065775 of 11.29.2018).

Aside from the worrying frequency at which, even today, the Italian DPA is called to give an opinion on the unlawful publication of data relating to women and minors (already) victims of violence, from all the provisions and press releases published by the DPA, arises a rigorous orientation aimed at the highest protection of the victim and their dignity.

As a matter of fact, the existing regulatory framework aims at avoiding that the publication of the news of a violence represents a form of violence in itself able to exponentially amplify the hurtful consequences of the act. This goal must be pursued at all levels of regulation, from the Constitution to criminal law, from the special discipline on privacy to journalism regulation.

The DPA recalled in many occasions that calling for the exercise of the right to information does not constitute an adequate legal basis for the processing legitimizing the publication of the victims’ personal data. Personal data that, to be precise, includes both data which make freely known the identity of a victim and data which is also able to allow the identification.

Moreover, in order to exercise the right to inform in a legitimate way, the facts must be exposed in a form which does not exceed the informative purpose of the news and without giving unnecessary details to represent the event, also following the principle of the materiality of the information provided for in the journalists’ Code of Ethics.

In order to further point out the principles which regulate the journalistic activity, in 2020 the Italian “Testo Unico dei Doveri del giornalista” was updated, inserting a provision aimed precisely at avoiding the pointless spectacularizing of violence and to guarantee that the circulation of news is carried out in a respectful way towards the offended people (art. 5 bis of the Testo Unico).

Now we must wait the outcome of the investigation of the Italian DPA to know the administrative measures and the motivations that will be stated against whom published the video under exam.

At the same time, the public Prosecutors office of Piacenza will also investigate on the event. The widespread of these images could as a matter of fact constitute the crime provided for in art. 734 bis of the Italian Criminal Code which, also in case of sexual violence, punishes with the detention from three to six months whoever “discloses, also through means of mass communication, the general information or the image of the offended person without their consent”.

The reaction of the Italian Association of Journalists was firm, condemning once again those who “uses women body only for visualizations. (…) adding violence to a cruel violence, used with for the only purpose of attracting audience, obtaining clicks and channel consent”.


Ilaria Feriti