RSF files complaint about French business intelligence firm’s report on Bulgarian journalist
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Atanas Tchobanov, a Bulgarian investigative journalist based in France, have filed a complaint with French prosecutors about a recently revealed report containing a lot of personal information about Tchobanov that Avisa Partners, a French business consultancy and economic intelligence firm, compiled without his knowledge.
“The collection of personal information about Atanas Tchobanov by Avisa Partners appears to have been carried out in violation of privacy laws. The existence of such a report is particularly worrying given the profile of this journalist, who has been subjected to threats, smear campaigns and acts of intimidation for many years because of his investigations into corruption in Bulgaria. We can legitimately suspect that Avisa’s report was commissioned by a malevolent client.
The complaint filed in Paris on 3 October by lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth on behalf of RSF and Tchobanov alleges the “collection of personal data by fraudulent, unfair or illicit means.” It claims that a large amount of personal information about Tchobanov, his private life, his resources, his network of journalistic contacts, his activities and his reputation was collected without his knowledge.
The complaint concludes that Avisa Partners appear to have violated article 226-16 of the French criminal code in the way they gathered and processed this personal information in the absence of any indication that they complied with the prior formalities or conditions required by the law.
The existence of the report was revealed in August by the French news website Mediapart, which said: “Avisa Partners teams dissected part of the life of the Bulgarian reporter Atanas Tchobanov in the spring of 2020.” Mediapart said that “according to Avisa Partners, this operation was carried out at the request of a 'press relations agency' it did not identify 'with the aim of discovering who was behind the attacks to which this agency’s client had been subjected,’ a ‘client’ whose identity also remains unknown.”
Avisa Partners told RSF that their report was just an “internal analysis memo [...] based on public information available online” and that it was “not distributed outside of Avisa.” The company also said the report was just "verification" carried out in accordance with its due diligence obligations. But it is hard to see how these obligations required research into Atanas Tchobanov.