Royally hacked off – High Court continues injunction to prevent publication of Pippa Middleton photographs

19 October 2016

The High Court has continued an interim injunction granted to Ms Pippa Middleton to prevent publication of photographs taken from her iCloud account. The Court also extended the injunction to cover all other material and information on the account.

The claimants' evidence showed that someone had accessed Ms Middleton's iCloud account without permission. That person had then offered the photographs held on it, which were personal to the claimants, to the national press. The evidence also showed that the iCloud account contained other private information.

Mrs Justice Whipple was satisfied that, as required under section 12(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), all reasonable steps had been taken to notify the respondent of the hearing. This was on the basis that a suspect who had been arrested had been notified but the defendants' identity remained unknown.

Whipple J found that, as required under section 12(3) of the HRA, the claimants were likely to establish at trial that publication should not be allowed. It appeared that the information had been obtained by hacking into Ms Middleton's iCloud account. This not only amounted to a criminal act, but an appalling intrusion into the claimants' private life. Any use by publication or sale of the information would be misuse of private information.

Whipple J also took account of the factors set out in section 12(4) of the HRA. This was on the basis that the defendants, if they were present, might have argued that the information had some journalistic value to be protected by the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But Whipple J dismissed this argument on the basis that, among other things, the information did not have any genuine public interest attached to it.

Whipple J concluded that any argument that Article 10 was infringed by the order would be very weak. On the other hand, the claimants' arguments that their rights to private life under Article 8 of the Convention were infringed were very strong. Therefore, the balance clearly favoured the claimants.

Apple’s iCloud is used by millions around the world for services including email, calendar, contacts and photographs - all stored behind a single username and password. Whilst being a very convenient way of organising one’s life; it is not without its dangers.

On 31 August 2014, a collection of almost 500 private pictures of various celebrities were posted on the imageboard 4chan. The pictures in question were mostly of women and with many containing nudity. The images were later disseminated by other users on websites and social networks such as Imgur and Reddit.

The images were believed to have been obtained via a breach of Apple's cloud services suite iCloud. However, it later turned out that the hackers could have taken advantage of a security issue in the iCloud API which allowed them to make unlimited attempts at guessing victims' passwords.

However, you don’t need to be a celebrity or related to royalty to be exposed to these dangers - hackers tend to target these accounts without discrimination. Protection of private and personal data is becoming an increasing area of concern for most people. But is there any way of preventing these types of attacks? Probably the easiest and most obvious way to protect your account from being hacked is to avoid weak passwords and easy-to-guess secret questions – something most of us will be guilty of. 

Other tips for protecting your personal material:

  • Lock your phone (and other devices) with a passcode
  • Don’t click links from emails or websites that you are unfamiliar with
  • Enable restrictions on devices wherever possible (this can usually be done through your general security settings)
  • Update your devices frequently to keep up with security updates

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