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UK Supreme Court rules claimant cannot bring privacy claims against U.S. tech company

Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security UK Of Interest to Non-US Persons Class Action Consumer Protection GDPR

Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

On November 10, the UK Supreme Court issued a judgment in an appeal addressing whether a claimant can bring data privacy claims in a representative capacity against a global technology company in a class action suit. The claimant sought compensation on behalf of a class under section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA 1998) for damages suffered when the tech company allegedly tracked millions of iPhone users’ internet activity in England and Wales over a period of several months between 2011 and 2012, and used the collected data without users’ knowledge or consent for commercial purposes. The DPA 1998 was replaced by the UK General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 but was in force at the time of the alleged breaches and is applicable to this claim, the Court explained in a press summary. The Court also noted that, except in antitrust cases, UK legislation does not allow class actions and Parliament has not yet legislated to establish a class action regime related to data protection claims. The Court noted that the claimant sought to use “same interest” precedent, which allows a claim to be brought “by or against one or more persons who have the same interest as representatives of any other persons who have that interest.”

The Court reasoned that the case was “doomed to fail” because “the claimant seeks damages under section 13 of the DPA 1998 for each individual member of the represented class without attempting to show that any wrongful use was made by [the tech company] of personal data relating to that individual or that the individual suffered any material damage or distress as a result of a breach of the requirements of the Act by [the tech company].” The Court added that users’ “loss of control” over personal data did not constitute “damage” under section 13 of the DPA 1998 because the users were not shown to have lost money or suffer distress. If the case had been allowed to proceed, the tech company could have faced a £3 billion damages award.

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