A deep dive into the Ashley Madison case with Natalie Jackson

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you would have heard about the hacking scandal surrounding affairs-accommodating site Ashley Madison which saw 36 million users have their names, addresses and account details posted online. It’s been a hot topic in the news recently with a new part of the case unravelling each day. We spoke to Natalie Jackson, our Quality Manager at Head Office to get her thoughts on the scandal and what to do if this has happened to you:

What are your thoughts on the Ashley Madison case?

The Ashley Madison hacking scandal is interesting from both a legal and moral perspective, with a lot of uncertainty. The site prides itself on its ‘discrete’ secretive nature and there is certainly lots we don’t yet know about how the data was obtained and how it will be treated by the Courts when a case gets there. There appears to be further uncertainty about the data itself with many people being linked to the site denying all knowledge.

Surprisingly the scandal may not have put everyone off the site either, according to the company’s home page membership has still been increasing. However, it is clear that there are approximately 1.2 million UK users. Chances are high that if you aren’t a user, then you probably know someone who is.

What are the risks of people’s private info and data being out there?

There are always risks when your data is held online. It’s incredibly important that you only give your data to organisations you trust and are comfortable with having it and that you remain conscious not to input data onto sites you don’t trust. However, it seems increasingly likely that our data will be held in a multitude of places as a result of technology, making it even more important for organisations to be able to show that they have taken appropriate measures to protect personal data.

EU bodies are in the process of negotiating a new General Data Protection Regulation, which is set to apply to both businesses inside and out of the EU if they target EU-based customers. This will extend the scope of EU protection law.

What should people do if they are worried this has happened to them?

There remains a lot of uncertainty about how the information was obtained and how much is genuinely user data from the dating site. If people are worried about being falsely accused or ‘outed’ as having accessed the site, they may be able to claim compensation for breach of data protection law or defamation, depending on the circumstance of their case. You should seek legal advice if this is the case.

How does the Data Protection Act play into this?

If Ashley Madison are established or making use of equipment in the UK, then the Data Protection Act 1998 will apply. This would be good news for people in England and Wales affected by the leak, as recent case law has opened the door to claimants who are unable to prove direct financial loss, but are able to prove distress due to a breach of data protection. This is likely to be highly relevant in the Ashley Madison case, where claimants may not be able to prove direct financial losses but may have had catastrophic consequences for their relationships.

However, when users sign up to Ashley Madison, the site directs them to acknowledge the following statement: “Although we strive to maintain the necessary safeguards to protect your personal data we cannot ensure the security or privacy of information you provide through the internet and email messages.” This limits liability for any damages of up to $5,000, which makes it more difficult to claim.

Do you anticipate a surge in divorce applications following the news?

With forums online buzzing with people talking about the Ashley Madison data and news stories now beginning to emerge about how the leak has affected people in the UK, it is only a matter of time before the first divorce application cites Ashley Madison as a contributing factor towards a spouse’s unreasonable behaviour. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position that your partner may have been using the site and you’re considering divorce, seek out expert advice.

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