Ashley Madison Update: Hacked Data Is Off-Limits

On April 29, 2016, Judge Ross issued his ruling on Ashley Madison’s motion for a protective order, prohibiting Plaintiffs from using the leaked documents, reports quoting the leaked documents, and information “stolen from Avid” in drafting their consolidated class action complaint. The result was largely policy driven, with Judge Ross stating broadly, “the Court cannot and will not allow Plaintiffs to take advantage of the work of hackers to access documents outside the context of formal discovery. To do so would taint these proceedings and, if left unremedied, potentially undermine the integrity of the judicial process.” The Court also ruled that it had inherent authority to issue a protective order with respect to documents obtained outside the course of normal discovery, and distinguished cases cited by the Plaintiffs in opposition. Rejecting Plaintiffs’ First Amendment argument, Judge Ross notes, “[j]ournalists … are in a completely different position than parties involved in private litigation. No doubt exists that the news media enjoy the freedom of ‘the press;’ however, the conduct of attorneys is informed by their ethical responsibilities as officers of the Court.” The amici briefs submitted by other Ashley Madison users made an impact on the Court as the Court found that the leaked information could not truly be considered “readily available to the public” due to the efforts of the other users to protect their privacy following the leak, as asserted in their briefs. Ultimately, Judge Ross emphasized the need to “protect the integrity of the internet and make it a safer place for business, research and casual use.”

Earlier posts on the topic:
Ashley Madison and Coming to “Terms” with Data Protection
From Ashley Madison to the Panama Papers: Is Hacked Data Fair Game?