Home > All, Politics, Security Issues > Alexander Hanff talks about the legal action against Google in the UK

Alexander Hanff talks about the legal action against Google in the UK

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Coinciding with Data Protection Day – which was yesterday in case you missed it – news emerged of a new legal challenge in the UK against Google. It involves last year’s ‘Apple tracking’ incident where Google surreptitiously side-stepped the no-cookies block on Safari. Judith Vidal-Hall, one-time editor of Index on Censorship, is the first to begin legal action; and a ‘letter before action’ has been sent to Google. London-based Olswang lawyers are handling the case, and privacy activist Alexander Hanff is advising. I asked Alexander two questions:

  1. Google has sought to have [a similar] US class case dismissed because, for example, “Plaintiffs Have No Standing Because They Have Alleged No Actual Injury” (http://www.scribd.com/doc/122259031/Google-Motion-to-Dismiss-Safari-Tracking-Lawsuit). Wouldn’t the same argument be even more effective under UK law?
  2. If Google acted illegally, why hasn’t the ICO acted?

No case
“With regard to injury,” he said, “as you know under UK law injury does not mean financial, or physical, it can also mean mental harm.” He argues that there was a loss of trust, which could be regarded as injury. And cannot “behavioural profiling without consent be considered injury in itself?” Hanff believes it can, and adds that there is a very significant injury to society where millions of people were monitored by a corporation without consent. “But even with all that said, I would argue that any judge needs to assess whether injury is a valid test for prosecution in Privacy cases given that Privacy is a fundamental human right as laid out by the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Covenant – any attack on human rights needs to be taken seriously and there should be legal consequences – a breach of a human right should be injury enough for a prosecution in my mind.” So for Hanff, the issue goes beyond mere national law and into international human rights where the courts must act.

“The ICO hasn’t acted because it suffers from regulatory capture,” he replied. Worryingly, “In 2010 I was told by a senior member of staff at ICO that Christopher Graham had [said] he did not want a fight with Google (this was during a discussion about the Google WiFi scandal); and as then the ICO has yet again failed to act against Google in the Safari case.” Hanff suspects that the ICO also has “a conflict of interests in taking enforcement action against Google as they use a large number of Google services. Finally,” he added, “as well as the reasons above, I believe another reason ICO doesn’t want to take action is because the cost of the appeal process would probably exceed their annual budget and human resources – they are significantly underfunded and understaffed.”

Hanff hopes that the action will grow into a group (class) action against Google. “I hope that this action encourages citizens in other countries across Europe to take similar action because until we start to hit these companies in their wallets, the abuses will continue. It is time to fight for our rights and take back our privacy – with a new data protection regulation on the horizon swarmed by a US corporate lobby which is trying to weaken our rights – we need to take control – carpe diem.”

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues
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