Spied-On But Not Settling for Secrecy
The other day a group of journalists and their family members filed suit against Hewlett-Packard for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unfair business practices, alleging that HP had illegally obtained their phone records as part of a scandalous surveillance scheme. These allegations were confirmed last year when news of the probe hit the headlines. The plaintiffs want a jury trial and are asking for unspecified damages. See article here.
Interestingly, the article notes that:
HP said it apologized to each of the people affected by the spying probe and made a ‘substantial’ settlement offer.
‘Unfortunately, rather than respond to the offer, they have decided to sue,’ HP said in a statement.
‘HP is disappointed by their decision and will defend itself.’
Umm… the plaintiffs have responded to the offer--by filing suit! This no-response effectively sends the message that their privacy can’t be bought and sold. I’m sure the plaintiffs will seek damages—wouldn’t you?—but more importantly, this lawsuit seems to me to be about making a public no-no out of what HP did. One plaintiff’s lawyer agrees, and is quoted in the article: “We’re filing the lawsuit to make sure this never happens again.”
Why is this important? It gets at one of the core benefits of an accessible and protective civil justice system: accountability. This is not about “you spied on me so show me the money.” It’s about “we want to make sure you never think that this is okay to do to anyone else, ever again.” While the decision to settle often makes sense after having gone through an arduous litigation process, sometimes the secrecy agreements that come along with settlements, and the company's ability to say "We didn't admit liability" make it an unattractive option to a plaintiff concerned with the principles at stake in a lawsuit.
HP’s profits are up and were unaffected by last year's probe scandal. But this lawsuit is an opportunity for the plaintiffs to make an example out of the situation, one that does service to the public by dissuading future corporate misconduct. Opening this issue to the public's eye by accessing the court system to redress their grievance is their right, and given the gravity of the issues involved, I don't blame them.