Thursday, October 31, 2013

Federal Court chastises Bell for accessing customer credit file without consent; $21K in damages

According to the CBC (I haven't found the decision yet), the Federal Court of Canada has called Bell "reprehensible" for accessing a customer's credit file without consent and then showing disdain for his complaint. According to the report, Bell didn't even show up to respond to the matter in Court. Here's the article: Bell TV 'reprehensible' for violating man's privacy - Nova Scotia - CBC News.

Once I've gotten my hands on the court decision, I'll post and link and provide comments.

Update: I don't have the decision yet, but from the Court's docket it is clear that the $21,000 is split between $10,000 in compensatory damages, "exemplary damages of $10,000 for Bell's conduct at the time of breach of the privacy rights and thereafter" and $1000 for disbursements and costs. Not a lot of cash for Bell Canada, but exemplary damages against a big telco is not common at all.

Update 2.0: Here is a copy of the decision Chitrakar v. Bell TV 2013 FC 1103[Google Doc].

[18] Bell’s conduct in this matter is reprehensible in respect to Chitraker’s privacy rights. Not only did Bell violate those rights, it has shown no interest in compensation or apparently any interest in addressing the CSR’s actions nor in following the Privacy Commissioner’s remedial recommendations. Its failure to appear in this Court is consistent with its disregard of Chitraker’s privacy rights.

In calculating damages, the Court had this to say:

[24] The fixing of damages for privacy rights’ violations is a difficult matter absent evidence of direct loss. However, there is no reason to require that the violation be egregious before damages will be awarded. To do so would undermine the legislative intent of paragraph 16(c) which provides that damages be awarded for privacy violations including but not limited to damages for humiliation.

[25] Privacy rights are being more broadly recognized as important rights in an era where information on an individual is so readily available even without consent. It is important that violations of those rights be recognized as properly compensable.

[26] The Court must bear in mind such factors as meaningful compensation, deterrence and vindication (see Vancouver (City) v Ward, 2010 SCC 27, [2010] 2 SCR 28).

[27] In this case, Chitraker had his rights violated in a real sense with potentially adverse consequences. Bell is a large company for whom a small damages award would have little material impact. Chitraker spent a considerable period dealing with the Bell bureaucracy and in pursuing his claim. These factors suggest that a damages award should not be minimalistic.


[28] Therefore, I would award Chitraker damages of $10,000. I would also award exemplary damages of $10,000 for Bell’s conduct at the time of the breach of the privacy rights and thereafter. I take account of Bell’s dealings with Chitraker as well as its reactions to the Privacy Commissioner and her recommendations and its failure to take these proceedings seriously.

[29] I would also award $1,000 for disbursements and other costs.

Update: My more detailed commentary about the case is here: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Some thoughts on Chitrakar v. Bell TV and damage awards under Canadian privacy law.

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