Compensation for mere distress – news from across the pond

Readers of this blog will doubtless be well aware of the recent landmark judgment of the Court of Appeal in Vidal-Hall & Ors v Google, where it was held that compensation is available for mere distress caused by  breach of data protection legislation. Interestingly, it is being reported today that the US Supreme Court will in due course be deciding a case on a similar issue, namely whether compensation is available where websites publish inaccurate data concerning individuals but the inaccuracy in the data causes no pecuniary loss. It appears that the issue will be considered by the Court in the context of a class action brought against an internet search engine that compiles publicly available data on people and lets subscribers view that information online – see further AP’s report on the case here. See also the Amicus Brief filed by Ebay, Facebook, Yahoo and Google in support of the appeal being brought by the ISE. That Brief, which rests heavily on in terrorem arguments, asserts not least that:

“Amici are concerned that this decision will substantially and improperly lower the bar for invoking the jurisdiction of federal courts, inviting abusive and costly litigation, including class actions seeking millions or even billions of dollars in statutory damages under FCRA [Fair Credit Reporting Act] and similar statutes. Amici are members of a rapidly growing and transforming technology industry that provides services to hundreds of millions of individuals each day. Users of amici’s services routinely conduct financial transactions, share information and content, and interact with people all over the world on platforms offered by amici. The services amici provide, the information they collect, and the interactions they facilitate arguably could be subject to laws that contain private rights of action and allow for statutory damages”

Of course, in the UK we have yet to see any comparable group litigation emerging in response to inaccurate data processed by data controllers. However, in the wake of Vidal-Hall, it can only be a matter of time before such cases are brought before the English Courts.

Anya Proops