The Singapore High Court and the Hong Kong District Court have both considered the right to compensation for injury to feelings in two recent cases involving misuse of personal data but arrived at different conclusions.
- Singapore: In Bellingham, Alex v. Reed, Michael, Mr. Bellingham obtained the email addresses of his former employers’ customers without their consent and contacted them. The former employers and one of the customers, Mr. Reed, brought an action against Mr. Bellingham for contravention of Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act 2012. In considering whether Mr. Reed was entitled to damages as a result of Mr. Bellingham’s misuse of his personal data, the Singapore court held that distress and mere loss of control over personal data was insufficient to constitute “loss or damage” required to sustain the right of private action under the law. Mr. Reed’s claim for compensation was dismissed. The case is a useful reminder to organisations to be careful about how they use personal data of individuals for marketing and business development and the need for organisations to comply with the PDPA.
- Hong Kong: In Tsang Po Mann v Tsang Ka Kit and Another, Mr. and Mrs. Tsang, the uncle and aunt of the plaintiff Ms. Tsang, sent an anonymous letter to the primary school where Ms. Tsang worked. The letter contained CCTV images captured by their cameras making negative allegations regarding Ms. Tsang’s character. While Ms. Tsang’s defamation claim was rejected, she succeeded in her claim for injury to feelings as a result of the misuse of personal data. The court awarded HK$70,000 to Ms. Tsang for the contravention of Hong Kong Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO) by Mr. and Mrs. Tsang. It is a reminder that the PDPO specifically allows claims for injury to feelings, in addition to the common law damages, and that use of personal data collected by CCTV cameras must be in compliance with the PDPO.
It is interesting to see how both cases involve claims for compensation for injury to feelings for misuse of personal data but different results were reached by the courts. While the data protection regimes in Singapore and Hong Kong provide somewhat similar protections to data subjects, organisations should be aware of the difference between the two sets of laws due to different legislative intentions. For the same act of violation, a different result may be reached in the two jurisdictions.
We conducted a more detailed analysis on the two cases. If you are interested, please click here.