Celebrities’ right to privacy has again been the subject of judicial attention, when Mirror Group Newspapers was ordered to pay supermodel Naomi Campbell damages and compensation for its publication of details of her treatment for drug addiction.
Although Campbell did not pursue a claim for breach of privacy at trial, that right was at the centre of the court’s decision.
The case centred on two key questions: whether Campbell was entitled to recover damages for breach of confidence and whether she was entitled to compensation for the newspaper’s breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. It was argued by the newspaper that Campbell had often courted media exposure. Nevertheless, the court considered that she was left with a residual area of privacy which the court should protect if its revelation would amount to a breach of confidentiality. The court decided the newspaper’s revelations of the details of Campbell’s drug treatment did amount to a breach of confidence.
These details were easily identifiable as private and therefore had the necessary quality of confidence.
The newspaper’s source of the story was unknown but the court surmised that it must have been a fellow sufferer or a member of Campbell’s staff or entourage. As such, details of her treatment were imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence and when received by the newspaper, it too was clothed with the duty of confidentiality.
Campbell also succeeded in her claim that the newspaper had breached the Data Protection Act 1998.
The court noted that the genesis of the act was the protection of an individual’s right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Both sides agreed that Campbell was a "data subject" for the purposes of the act, that the information collected about her drug treatment was "personal data", the newspaper was the "data controller" and that the newspaper’s activities were data "processing".
The court held that the newspaper had contravened the act. The method of collecting the data, including the taking of surreptitious photographs by a concealed photographer, was not fair as Campbell had no opportunity to refuse her consent.
Although the newspaper had a legitimate interest in publishing the facts of her drug addiction – Campbell having previously denied it- and that she was in therapy, the newspaper did not have a legitimate interest in publishing the details of that therapy. This was an unwarranted intrusion into her right of privacy and a breach of the act.
Diane Hamer is a lawyer in the computers, communications and media group of Lovells