A judge has ruled a lawsuit in California alleging Thomson Reuters breached individuals’ privacy rights can move on to the discovery phase of court hearings.

The plaintiffs claim the news and data organisation gathered their personal information and created a composite of their identities in its CLEAR database without their permission. Thomson Reuters offers subscriptions to the database.

“The harm to plaintiffs is tremendous: an all-encompassing invasion of plaintiffs’ privacy, whereby virtually everything about them – including their contact information, partially redacted social security number, criminal history, family history, and even whether they got an abortion, to name just a few – is transmitted to strangers without their knowledge, let alone their consent,” the Courthouse News Service quoted judge Edward Chen as writing in his ruling. 

“There is a serious question of material fact as to whether Thomson Reuters’s opt-out mechanism even complies with the CCPA,” he wrote, referring to the California Consumer Privacy Act.

The company argues its CLEAR service, a searchable database that contains individuals’ names and other information scraped from various public data sources, provides a valuable resource and only aggregates information already publicly available. 

Chen wrote: “Thomson Reuters boasts on its website that the CLEAR platform allows its users to uncover information about plaintiffs that is ‘not ascertainable via public records or traditional search engine queries,’ ‘facts hidden online,’ and ‘key proprietary and public records’.” 

Thomson Reuters further contended that, as a media organisation, there is a countervailing public benefit which outweighs the right to privacy.

The plaintiffs, Cat Brooks and Rasheed Shabazz, say they are not public figures but are private citizens who have not chosen to undertake various methods of exposing themselves to the public eye. 

Thomson Reuters also claimed there is a public benefit to the publication of the information. 

Chen wrote: “Thomson Reuters is not a journalist performing a ‘public benefit’ by making plaintiffs’ personal information available to the public. Rather, the company’s dissemination of this information only benefits the private parties who purchase the CLEAR dossiers.”


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