Privacy Injunction: AMP v Persons Unknown [2011]

AMP v Persons Unknown [2011] EWHC 3454 (TCC)

The Claimant applied and was granted a Privacy injunction. This was a case where the claimant, a university student lost her phone or had it stolen, on the phone were a number of private photos of herself and her friends and family. It also had on it some photos of a sexually explicit nature of her and her boyfriend. Those photos were shortly afterwards uploaded to an internet hosting service. She was then informed by strangers that those photos had been uploaded to Facebook. She contacted Facebook and they were removed promptly. The claimant was also contacted by someone on Facebook who threatened to expose her identity and post it widely online.

Her fathers business was also contacted and threatened with  blackmail about some of the images. The images were uploaded to a Swedish website known as  “bit torrent”. These images were then downloaded many times

The matter was heard in The Technology and Construction Court because of the technical issues involved.

The Claimant sought an Privacy injunction on two grounds namely:

  • Under the right to preserve her right to respect for her private and family life under the Human Rights Act 1998 (Article 8), and
  • Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (section 3).

The claim was brought against persons unknown. It was submitted that there were too many people and it would be too cumbersome and costly to add them as specific defendants and therefore the parties were referred to as a class of persons unknown, by reference to their particular characteristic,

 ” any person in possession or control of any part or parts of the relevant files containing the relevant digital photographic images”.

The court balanced the claimants right to respect for her private and family life under article 8 with Article 10, the right of the publisher of the photos to the right of free speech. Whether the claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the photos. Having regard to the nature of the photos and the circumstances in which they were taken, the absence of consent and the effect on the claimant was a clear expectation of privacy. The court had  no difficulty in finding that the balance fell on the claimants side.

The court went on to consider the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and found that the distribution of those photos could amount to harassment and it was appropriate to grant an injunction on both privacy and protection from harassment pending the final trial.

The effect of the order was that a breach would be a criminal offence without the necessity of applying to the court for contempt.

The order can be served on anyone seeding the image or making it a criminal offence to continue to do so.

The order granted therefore was;

  • Shall immediately cease seeding a bit torrent containing any part or parts of the files listed in schedule C of this order  
  • Must not upload or transmit to any other person any part or parts of the files listed in schedule C of this order
  • Must not create any derivatives of any files that are in schedule C of this orderMust not disclose the name of claimant ( or any other information which might lead to her identification ) or the names of any of  the files listed in schedule C of this order

An interesting case of the courts adapting to new technology. It is doubtful however that many will be able to incur the expense of making such an application.

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