Saturday, May 25, 2013

Will Irish courts take phone hacking seriously?

There's a remarkable story in today's Irish Independent about a woman whose criminal charges were struck out - without even a conviction - despite having been found guilty of listening to her former supervisor's voicemails. From the article:
A CIVIL servant who was found guilty of spying on her former supervisor by hacking into her mobile phone's voicemail messages has escaped punishment.

Dublin City Council employee Severine Doyle (39) had pleaded not guilty to 11 charges under the Postal and Telecommunication Act. However, following a hearing last June, she was found guilty of intercepting voice messages on a phone used by Teresa Conlon, Dublin City Council's head of housing allocation.

Dublin District Court heard that Ms Conlon's voicemail messages had been intercepted over a five-week period, from January 8 until February 11, 2010.

Doyle's sentencing had been adjourned until yesterday. Judge Eamon O'Brien told defence solicitor Declan Fahy: "I will strike it out with liberty to re-enter. I am giving her a chance, the ball is in her court."

During the trial on June 28 last year, Ms Conlon told the judge she found out that some city councillors had said they had listened to tapes of messages left on her phone.
This is an unusual outcome. The offences established carry a possible sentence of 5 years if prosecuted on indictment or 12 months otherwise. There were multiple incidents of phone hacking over an extended period. There was no guilty plea. The offences were aggravated by dissemination of the recorded material to councillors. Despite all this, the case was struck out. This may not have been a case for a custodial sentence, but I see no reason why a conviction shouldn't have been registered to mark the gravity of the offence. While there may be more to the matter than emerges from the media coverage, on the face of it this is a case where the court has failed to give adequate weight to the right to privacy in communications.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Anyone who uses Facebook does so at his or her peril"

Lawyers: Angry that former clients are suing you over failed investments? Apparently the correct response is not to post on Facebook "They thought they knocked me down, now they will see the full scale of my reaction. F*** them, just f*** them. They will be left with nothing."

Turns out that Facebook posts are not automatically confidential, and will be admissible in evidence against you in proceedings to stop you dissipating the money you owe. Whodathunkit?

The key passage is at para. 4 of the judgment and neatly summarises why very few posts will attract a duty of confidence:
[A]nyone who uses Facebook  does so at his or her peril. There is no guarantee that any comments posted to be viewed by friends will only be seen by those friends. Furthermore it is difficult to see how information can remain confidential if a Facebook user shares it with all his friends and yet no control is placed on the further dissemination of that information by those friends. No evidence was adduced as to how many friends the defendant had and what his relationship was with each of them. It was certainly not suggested that those friends were in anyway restricted as to how they used any information given to them by the defendant. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not consider that any of the friends viewing that information would necessarily have concluded that the information was confidential and could not be disclosed. I have received no evidence as to why those friends were in any way restricted as to how they can use information received from the defendant and why they would have known this information was confidential or private

Defamatory material on Facebook and YouTube: McKeogh v. Doe and others

The High Court today gave a significant decision in McKeogh v. Doe and others concerning defamatory material posted through Facebook and YouTube. The background to the case is well summarised by the Daily Mail. As I have a professional involvement I'll refrain from any comment except to explain that this is an interlocutory judgment (i.e. pending a final hearing of the action) in which Peart J. held that a mandatory injunction should be granted against Facebook and the Google defendants requiring them to take down material defaming the plaintiff until the full trial can take place. The judgment did not itself grant an injunction - instead, the details of the injunction will be determined following a meeting to take place between experts for the plaintiff and the defendants. After this meeting the experts must report back to the court with either an agreed report or separate reports regarding the technical steps which can be taken to remove the defamatory material as far as reasonably possible.

Full text of the judgment: