The English High Court has recently awarded damages in a data privacy case, with two features of particular interest. First, the nature of the claim is more reminiscent of a claim in defamation than for data privacy breaches, which is a development in the use of data protection legislation. Secondly, the damages awarded (perhaps influenced by the nature of the case) were unusually high for a data privacy case.
The decision highlights an unusual use of data protection in English law, as a freestanding form of quasi-defamation claim, as the claimants sought damages for reputational harm (as well as distress) solely under the Data Protection Act 1998 (the “DPA”, since replaced by the Data Protection Act 2018, which implemented the General Data Protection Regulation ((EU) 2016/679) (GDPR) in the UK) rather than in a libel or defamation claim, or in parallel with such a claim. It also sets a potentially unhelpful precedent by awarding two of the claimants £18,000 each for inaccurate processing of their personal data, an amount that is significantly higher than has been awarded in other data protection cases brought under the DPA. If such awards were to be made in the context of a class action, the potential liability for data controllers could be significant.
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