GRC World Forums, picking up a story from Courthouse News Service, is reporting on a privacy case in federal court in California which is moving to the discovery phase following the granting in part and denial in part of the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
In an August 16, order, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen noted that
Thomson Reuters “aggregates both public and non-public information about millions of people” to create “detailed cradle-to-grave dossiers on each person, including names, photographs, criminal history, relatives, associates, financial information, and employment information.” Other than publicly available information on social networks, blogs, and even chat rooms, Thomson Reuters also pulls “information from third-party data brokers and law enforcement agencies that are not available to the general public, including live cell phone records, location data from billions of license plate detections, real-time booking information from thousands of facilities, and millions of historical arrest records and intake photos.” The company collects everything from credit information, DMV records, social-media posts, utility records, and even records indicating whether a person has had an abortion.
Thomson Reuters then sells this information to its customers—without the knowledge or consent of the persons to whom the information concerns—through an online platform it calls CLEAR.
(citations omitted). Judge Chen continued:
The named Plaintiffs are Californians whose identities Thomson Reuters sells to its customers through CLEAR. Neither consented to the company selling their personal information—and neither wants the company to do so. Both are Black civil rights activists concerned about being targeted because of their work. Id. They do not want a 360-degree view of their lives available to those willing to pay for it. Shabazz also alleges that Thomson Reuters’s CLEAR profile on him incorrectly indicates that he is divorced and has failed to pay child support when he was never legally married and at the time had no children.
(citations omitted). The plaintiffs allege (1) violations of the California common law right of publicity; (2) a claim for monetary relief for violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), Cal Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200; (3) unjust enrichment; and (4) a claim for injunctive relief for violations of the UCL.
In discussing the validity of claims under the UCL, the Judge Chen wrote that
The harm to plaintiffs is tremendous: an all-encompassing invasion of plaintiffs’ privacy, whereby virtually everything about them – including their contact information, partially redacted social security number, criminal history, family history, and even whether they got an abortion, to name just a few – is transmitted to strangers without their knowledge, let alone their consent.
The Court found that (1) the “Plaintiffs’ have properly pled that Defendant has “used” their names and likenesses for purposes of stating a right of publicity claim; (2) the plaintiffs have no cause of action for monetary relief under the UCL, but they can seek equitable relief in the form of an injunction; and (3) “Plaintiffs can raise a standalone unjust enrichment claim.”
The case is Brooks v. Thomson Reuters Corp., 21-cv-01418-EMC, (N.D. Cal. Aug. 16, 2021). The plaintiffs are represented by the Gibbs Law Group and Gupta Wessler. The defendant is represented by Perkins Coie.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More