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Home Office required to pay compensation as a result of publication online of a spreadsheet containing personal data of asylum seekers

TLT and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2016] EWHC 2217

The High Court ordered the Home Office to pay six claimants damages to the total value of £39,500 for misuse of private information and breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), as a result of mistakenly publishing a spreadsheet online which contained the personal data of asylum seekers.

Details included applicant name, their age, nationality, the fact they were making an asylum claim, immigration removal status and reference to the regional office that dealt with their application.  The document remained available for almost two weeks and had been accessed from various IP addresses.  The Home Office conceded that its actions amounted to a misuse of private information and in breaches of the DPA and so the judgment focused on quantification of damages.

The claimants provided witness statements detailing the distress and anxiety caused by the disclosure of the personal data and the actual or feared consequences.  Some of the claimants gave evidence that authorities in the states from which they had fled had become aware of their asylum application as a result.  This caused them to fear for their lives and in two cases, Iranian authorities had detained a family member until the claimants provided identity documents.

Mitting J determined the following points of law.

·       Family members of the asylum applicant, who were not named in the spreadsheet could recover damages at common law and under the DPA, as this was their personal data also, and their identities could be inferred from the document.

·       The de minimis principle applies to the level of distress.

·       No useful guidance can be drawn from the level of quantum in cases arising from the deliberate exploitation of private information by the media.

·       Damages should be awarded for the loss of the right to control private and confidential information as well as for the distress caused.

In assessing distress, Mitting J applied a rationality test to the claimants’ fears.  The highest awards were made to those who held genuine and rational fears for their safety and/ or that of family members in their country of origin.  Even where fears were not rational, awards were made for the initial shock of the discovery.  The awards ranged from £2,500 to £12,500.

Read Inforrm article here.

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Private Information & Data Protection