Feeds

Appeals court absolves firm that exposed man's SSN

No harm, no foul

New hybrid storage solutions

A man whose social security number and other personal data were exposed by a company that processed his job application has no legal claims because no actual damage resulted from the privacy breach, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The decision, issued late last week by the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, is likely to make life more difficult for people suing Facebook and other companies in California for not adequately protecting user information. It upheld a lower court ruling that said the mere possibility of damage and the cost of monitoring credit reports didn't count as the harm needed to bring a lawsuit under laws in the state.

The case arose from the theft of one or more laptops from Vangent, a company that processed job applications for clothing retailer The Gap. We're guessing it's the same mega breach The Gap reported in late 2007 warning that sensitive information for more than 800,000 individuals was exposed when laptops with unencrypted contents were stolen.

Applicant Joel Ruiz sued the two companies for a raft of violations, including negligence, breach of contract, unfair competition and invasion of privacy. But the federal judge hearing the case rejected each cause of action on the grounds the plaintiff failed to state actual damages that resulted from the breach.

“No one can doubt that those individuals whose private information was potentially exposed by the theft of the laptop have reason to be aggrieved and concerned,” the three-judge panel for the appeals court wrote in its decision. “However, the sole question for us is whether the district court properly analyzed the legal claims raised by Ruiz. We conclude that it did.”

The ruling largely echoes decisions by other courts, including a case against online prescription drug processor Express Scripts, which leaked highly sensitive subscriber information. Under the statutes invoked in the cases, plaintiffs were required to show actual damage arising from the breaches, rather than the speculation, however well founded, that they are more susceptible to harm, the courts have in essence ruled.

Last week's decision is evidence that appeals courts are inclined to agree with that reasoning. And according to The Technology & Marketing Law Blog that isn't likely to fare well for two separate lawsuits pending against Facebook for sharing users' personal information with advertisers despite assurances such information would never be shared without explicit permission.

“Both of these lawsuits allege that Facebook improperly disclosed the user name and other information of Facebook users who accessed content on the web,” blogger Venkat Balasubramani wrote. “Claims in both lawsuits are premised around Facebook's violation of its privacy policy. As this case makes clear, the plaintiffs in these cases are unlikely to be able to show actual damages, and their breach of contract, negligence, and unfair competition claims are likely dead on arrival.”

The virtual immunity companies have when they lose your data is worth remembering the next time one of them makes solemn promises that your data is safe with them. They may sound assuring, but when push comes to shove, they don't mean very much. Just ask Joel Ruiz. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Heavy VPN users are probably pirates, says BBC
And ISPs should nab 'em on our behalf
Former Bitcoin Foundation chair pleads guilty to money-laundering charge
Charlie Shrem plea deal could still get him five YEARS in chokey
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.