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The Ashley Madison hack – divorce and data protection

What does the hacking of the Ashley Madison website say about divorce and data protection?

It has been confirmed that the hackers who have recently attacked the website Ashley Madison, a website that specialises in facilitating extra-marital affairs, have made good on their threats last month to release the personal information of Ashley Madison’s 37 million members including their names, email addresses and credit card details.

The list has reportedly been leaked on the so-called dark web, meaning it is accessible only via encrypted browsers.

However, it may only be a matter of time until noteworthy names, attracted by the anonymity of the Ashley Madison site, are discovered and published.

Of those affected by the hack, it is thought around 1.2 million members are British, 95% of whom are thought be male. The details are understood to also include people who had previously paid to delete their accounts on the site.

It is unclear whether or not the hackers are following a moral crusade but there are likely to be many nervous people in the coming days and months who will be worried that their spouse may find their names on the list and that the discovery may ultimately lead to a breakdown of their marriage.

It may well be that many on the list have not actually conducted an affair but the fact that the very thought has crossed their minds is likely to bring upset to many couples if the details on the site are made public.

How does this affect the situation surrounding divorce?

Being on the list is not in itself a ground for divorce but either an acceptance that the adultery has taken place or citing signing up for the website as an example of a party’s unreasonable behaviour is.

It must also be borne in mind that conduct of this nature is very, very rarely relevant in relation to financial matters relating to divorce.

If you have concerns about whether or not you, or your partner, may be on the list then it is important to obtain specialist legal advice as soon as possible.

There will be a great many couples who, happily, are able to work through their differences but sadly there will be some who are not.

However, it is important to note that the presence of someone’s name on the Ashley Madison list does not automatically mean that they have signed up to the service. The potential for fake accounts to be set up or people’s identities to be stolen and used means there remains some level of doubt about the information reportedly released.

The incident also highlights how sensitive personal information provided via the internet can be vulnerable to hackers, following on from concerns raised in the wake of the hacking of Apple’s iCloud internet-based storage facility last year.

Data security and data protection are important issues for both individuals and companies, especially those such as Ashley Madison which hold the personal details (including financial details) of millions of people and which market themselves as providing discreet services to users.

Providing appropriate organisational and technological levels of protection against hackers and having a robust action plan in place to tackle any potential breaches of security are important precautions for businesses of all kinds to take.

While Ashley Madison is run by a Canadian company and reportedly used the bcrypt encryption standard to encrypt user data, UK companies face potentially large fines from the UK data regulator if they fail to take adequate precautions to protect the data which they hold in relation to customers or users.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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