Facebook revisited – Another Norwich Pharmacal Case

I posted recently about an important recent case on the subject of accessing personal data about facebook users (see my post on the Nicola Brookes case here). In my post, I said that it was understood that this may have been the first case in which an individual has been able to secure a court order requiring facebook to disclose personal data about its users. The wonders of the internet are such that I received today an email from the Cayman Islands’ Deputy Information Commissioner, Jan Liebaers, alerting me to the fact that there had in fact been an earlier judgment of the High Court making a similar order: Applause Store Productions Ltd and another v Raphael [2008] EWHC 1781 (QB). The Applause Store case was actually a libel case. The background to the case was that a fake facebook page had been set up which contained material which was defamatory of one of the claimants (MH). An issue arose in the case as to who had been responsible for setting up the fake page. It would appear from paragraph 10 of the judgment that the claimants’ solicitors, Olswang, obtained a Norwich Pharmacal order against Facebook Inc for disclosure of the registration data provided by the user responsible for creating the false material, including e-mail addresses, and the IP addresses of all computers used to access Facebook by the owner of those email addresses. Facebook Inc went on to provide Olswang with evidence, which was not contested at the hearing, showing that the profile was created on a computer using an IP address which was accepted to have been the Defendant’s and that the relevant group page was created on a computer using that same IP address on the afternoon of 20th June 2007. The remainder of the judgment concerned the question of whether the court should find that the Defendant was the individual who set up the fake facebook page and, hence, that he was responsible for defaming MH. On this issue, the judge held that the Defendant’s case was utterly implausible and that he was liable in respect of the defamation. My thanks to Jan Liebaers for the alert about this important case. Taken together the Brookes case and the Applause Store case reveal a clear appetite on the part of the judiciary to issue orders requiring facebook to provide evidence where this is necessary in order to further the interests of justice.

Anya Proops