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Latest news in the Accusearch file

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As followers of Canadian federal privacy law might know, there was a complaint to the Office in June 2004 related to the operations of a US company called Accusearch, which promised to find confidential telephone records on anyone, for a fee. A detailed explanation of the case can be found in our Legal Corner, but the conclusion was a ruling from the Federal Court of Canada that web sites that are accessible from Canada may fall under the OPC’s jurisdiction for investigation.

In May 2006, the Federal Trade Commission charged Accusearch and its chief executive with breaking the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Telecommunications Act. A federal court in Wyoming found for the FTC in September 2007. Accusearch subsequently appealed this decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Office submitted an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Federal Trade Commission in this matter. This highlighted the fact that the unauthorized collection, use and disclosure of personal information over the Internet by data-brokers can cause harm and has extra-territorial effects.

Today, the 10th Circuit Court denied the appeal, noting that:

“… Accusearch attempts to portray itself as the provider of neutral tools, stressing that it merely provided “a forum in which people advertise and request” telephone records … But that phrasing mischaracterizes the record. As explained above, Accusearch solicited requests for confidential information protected by law, paid researchers to find it, knew that the researchers were likely to use improper methods, and charged customers who wished the information to be disclosed. Accusearch’s actions were not “neutral” with respect to generating offensive content; on the contrary, its actions were intended to generate such content …”

The full decision is available on the Court’s website.

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