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Court: Cable Company Not Liable for Keeping Customer's Personal Data

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appeals court has rejected a consumer's suit against Time Warner Cable for retaining personal information he gave the company when he subscribed to its services.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal said the plaintiff did not have any damages or standing to sue the cable company. The plaintiff claimed the company violated the Cable Communications Policy Act, which provides that a cable operator "shall destroy personally identifiable information if the information is no longer necessary."

The appellate court said the act also imposes a duty on cable operators to retain rather than destroy subscriber information for specified reasons. Affirming a dismissal of the case for lack of standing, the justices said the plaintiff had not shown any plausible risk of harm.

"This Is Gibberish"

The court even scoffed at the plaintiff's suggestion that the company's action caused a "deprivation of the economic value" of his personal information.

"This is gibberish," Judge Richard A. Posner wrote for the unanimous panel. "Time Warner did not take the plaintiff's personal information away from him; he still has it (unless he tore up his birth certificate, credit card information, etc.)"

Plaintiff Derek Gubala had subscribed to Time Warner's cable services in 2004 and gave the company his date of birth, home address, home and work telephone numbers, Social Security number, and credit card information. He cancelled the service two years later, and learned eight years after that the company still had his personal information.

No Damages, No Standing

He sued but did not for damages; instead he sought an injunction to make the company destroy his data. The trial court dismissed for lack of standing.

On appeal, the court considered that the cable company had violated the statutory mandate to destroy personal information. The Act does provide a remedy for people who have been aggrieved by violations, the court said, but Gubala had not alleged any harm.

The court also considered the possibility of a privacy claim, but the plaintiff had not alleged that the defendant did anything with the information other than store it. The court said the case was "very similar" to a recent decision by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which involved the same plaintiff's attorney.

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