26 September 2014

Privacy protection on the up

Amber Melville-Brown
Partner | US

Recent figures released by Thompson Reuters show that the number of cases involving privacy issues taken to court has doubled since 2009. The year ending May 2014 saw 56 reported such cases compared to 26 cases in 2009 / 2010. And these figures don't count the many cases which settle before reaching court. The modern law of privacy has at its core, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. It is commonly used as a means of redress for those whose personal lives are written about – in print and increasingly online – without their authority. It has also been used as a cause of action for victims of the ongoing phone hacking litigation. And increasingly it is being used, in conjunction with remedies under the Data Protection Act, in relation to concerns over personal data held by businesses and government agencies. As these organisations continue to amass our personal data for commercial and law enforcement purposes respectively, they are increasingly likely to be held to account by those individuals to whom the personal data relates. Many would argue that this is quite rightly so; while signing up to Facebook or Twitter may require the user to grant those organisations broad rights over their content, and although government organisations have statutory rights to collate information about you, this does not give carte blanche to infringe fundamental rights of privacy and the fair processing of your personal data. Facebook is a perfect venue for us, especially the younger generations, to expose our own personal and private information. But the organisation has faced a growing number of privacy-based legal challenges of late. A case was recently brought in the Austrian courts by individuals seeking damages for alleged personal data violations, including allegations that Facebook is assisting the US National Security Agency in using its Prism program to analyse the personal data of un-witting Facebook users. And in the UK, individuals have brought privacy actions against the police in relation to stop and search powers, in respect of personal data held by police forces and undercover surveillance by them. Privacy law may previously have been regarded as the preserve of celebrities seeking to curtail the excesses of the press. But current cases show that it increasingly being used to obtain remedies by a wider range of people who are no less deserving of the right to respect for their private life and who are prepared to seek recourse through the law where that privacy is violated. Co-authored by Amber Melville-Brown and Jonathan Turner

Category: Blog