Data protection – landmark judgment in Vidal-Hall v Google on damages for distress

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The Court of Appeal has held that claims for damages for distress and injury under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) can be brought even where the claimant has not suffered any financial loss. This is a significant change in the law on data protection and could well lead to an increase in claims being brought by aggrieved employees. Previously, lack of any financial loss by the individual had been a major hurdle in bringing a claim for distress caused by a breach of date protection rights. That hurdle had now been removed.

The Court held that the wording of the DPA, which states that a claimant must be able to establish some form of financial loss in order to bring a claim, was inconsistent with the European Data Protection Directive because the main purpose of the Directive was to protect privacy rather than economic rights. Accordingly, individuals who have suffered emotional distress (but no financial loss) as a result of a breach of data protection laws are be able to claim compensation. It is therefore as important as ever to ensure that privacy and data protection rights are protected and that policies are kept up to date. It is advisable to audit processes at least annually to ensure compliance.