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Can A Webmaster Disclose The Perosnal Information Of His Member to 3rd Party?

September 10th, 2009 · 4 Comments

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If you are a webmaster (e.g. forum owner, portal owner or even a blogger) and one of your members/readers (“Mr A”) has made a defamatory statement or remark against someone (“Mr B”) at your forum / website / blog.

Consequently, you received a letter from Mr B’s lawyer requesting you to furnish the personal information (e.g. email address, name, contact details) of Mr A (“the Information”). what shall you do? What are your rights as a webmaster in this situation?

Scenario 1 – If You Choose Not To Respond

If you choose to iqnore the letter of demand issued by Mr B’s lawyer, Mr B may further instruct his lawyer to file an application for pre-action discovery in court to order you to disclose the Information. This is exactly what happened in the case of Stemlife Bhd v. Bristol-Myers Squibb (M) Sdn Bhd [2008] 6 CLJ 200 (Stemlife’s case).

In Stemlife case, the court granted the pre-action discovery order to ask the 2nd Defendant (ARACHNID SDN BHD) to disclose the Information of the 1st Defendant (BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB (M) SDN BHD) as the 2nd Defendant was entangled with a wrongful tort.

Upon receiving the court order, if you still choose not to disclose the Information, you may be sued for contempt of court which may cause you to go to jail.

Under this Scenario 1, you need to bear in mind of the possibility that the court may order you to bear the cost incurred by Mr B in filing the application for pre-action discovery in court.

Scenario 2 – If You Choose To Respond

If you choose to disclose the Information, there MAY be risk that Mr A may take legal action against you as you choose to disclose his Information to 3rd party without his express consent. In particular in the case where there is an agreement between the members and the webmaster to restrict the later to disclose certain information. You can usually see this in the Privacy Notice or User Agreement when a person register as member fo the website/forum. If there is such an agreement, you as the webmaster may be sued for breach of contract.

Despite the above, I use the word MAY as I am not sure what cause of action Mr A may use to bring you to court (or there may not be any), since, the privacy laws in Malaysia is pretty weak at the moment pending the passing of the Personal Data Protection Bill.

However, in theory, in order to reduce your legal risk to the minimal, what you may want to do is to inform Mr B that you are happy to cor-operate with him but you fear that you may be sued by Mr A, as such, it will be good if Mr B can instruct his lawyer to file the pre-action discovery application with no order as to costs or with costs. That means you are not liable to reimburse the expenses incurred by Mr B in the event Mr B manage to obtain the order. I use the word “in theory” as I doubt Mr B will be so kind to accede to your “no costs” request.

Furthermore, it will also be a good idea, if you can secure a written consent from Mr B that he will not sue you as co-defendant in any event whatsoever if you agree to render your co-operation to him. This is to prevent Mr B from suing you as the publisher of the defamatory statement made online. (I will discuss more on this point in my next post).

It is sometime easy to set up a website or blog but the responsibility as a webmaster or blogger is not equally “easy”. Post or article can be deleted from the website or blog easily but not liability. As such, you should always play safe when you are in doubt. Careful, careful…!

Tags: -==Legal Tips==- · Internet Law · Malaysian Cyber Law

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Shimizu // Sep 10, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Very informative. Thanks alot eddie ;)

  • 2 Can A Web Developer/Hosting Company Be Liable For Defamatory Remarks On His Client’s Website? // Sep 16, 2009 at 9:01 am

    [...] RSS ← Can A Webmaster Disclose The Perosnal Information Of His Member to 3rd Party? [...]

  • 3 Eddie Law // Sep 16, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Glad that you like it David.

  • 4 Vincent // Oct 26, 2009 at 12:46 am

    Hi,I currently having some problem with my ads company, I suspect my acc in that ads company is being hacked by someone…what should I do?can i reclaim the money from the ads company?

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