3Nov 2015
Nov 3, 2015

Will people search sites become vulnerable to lawsuits

A conflict between web based data providers and privacy laws is to be heard in the Supreme Court. The hearing will also decide the way forward for potential lawsuits over inaccurate information. It centers around a Virginia man and an ongoing case against a ‘people search engine’ (Spokeo). The people search company provides online data. The Virginia man was surprised to see that he had children, was married, around 50 years old, had a professional career with a degree.

However none of the information provided by the people search engine was correct. He was, in fact, not married, unemployed and 29 years old. He then sued with the help of a class action attorney from Chicago. The lawsuit relies on the Fair Credit Reporting Act 1970. Essentially the act came about in response to individuals who had lost out on insurances or mortgages due to false data and reporting of credit records. The FCRA further allowed for victims to claim between $100 to $1000 in damages. Data providers and people search sites are nor holding their breath should the claim be successful and opens the floodgates.

Will the outcome become a feeding frenzy for millions who have, in fact, suffered no harm. The Virginia man had his first case dismissed in 2011 by an LA federal district judge. The judge put forward that he had no grounds to sue as the profile had, in fact, shown him as more successful and better educated. His claim was that the people search profile by Spokeo had blighted his job prospects but this was deemed “implausible” and “speculative”. However he faired more successfully at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which saw his case see some light and his statutory rights (alleged violations) warranted his day in court. Spokeo’s attorney’s appealed citing 29 other similar cases within the prior 4 months also identifying laws to small damages claims.

The legal quandary is who has the momentum to sue. Federal courts, in line with the constitution, have authority in respect of “all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution (and) the law of the United States.” Can congress create legal precedent for Americans, i.e. to protect them against such issues as incorrect credit reports and inaccuracies over people search data, that would open the door to federal court and the lucrative class actions for attorneys who will undoubtedly profit the most. A ruling is anticipated by the Spring.

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