Breach of confidence is an equitable action that is increasingly significant for the protection of human dignity in the technological age. Its scope extends beyond the economic interests which more frequently invoke equity, to protecting dignity where an individual’s privacy interests have been violated. This paper considers the history of case development that consolidated the ability of confidence to protect dignity in its own right. It then looks at two contemporary contexts where new technologies necessitate the application of confidence to dignitary concerns: specifically, “revenge porn” cases where an individual abuses an intimate partner’s trust and privacy and in “data breach” situations where much larger entities release information of a data subject improperly. It is finally theorised that equity’s basis in conscience makes confidence well suited to protecting interests that are dignitary, rather than economic, in character. The contribution of this paper to the existing field of literature is to establish the growing utility of the doctrine of confidence as a private law action to deter and redress misuses of private information that are facilitated and amplified by technological advances.

Author Biography

Raúl Madden, Griffith University

Tutor at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tutorial Assistance Program - Griffith University. Phd Candidate - University of Kent.



A Articles/Books/Reports

Alpin, Tanya, ‘The Future of Breach of Confidence and the Protection of Privacy’ (2007) 7 Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal 137

Australian Law Reform Commission, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice, Report No 108 (2008)

Australian Law Reform Commission, Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era, Report No 123 (2014)

Bambauer, Derek, ‘Exposed’ (2012) 98 Minnesota Law Review 2025

Bloustein, Edward J, ‘Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity: An Answer to Dean Prosser’ (1964) 39 New York University Law Review 962

Callinan, I D F, ‘Privacy, Confidence, Celebrity and Spectacle’ (2007) 7 Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal 1

Dickie, Hans ‘Restraint of Breach of Confidence: Duchess of Argyll v Duke of Argyll’ (1966) 24 Faculty of Law Review 115

Floridi, Luciano, ‘On Human Dignity as a Foundation for the Right to Privacy’ (2016) 29 Philosophy and Technology 307

Hedlund, Richard, ‘The Theological Foundations of Equity’s Conscience’ (2015) 4 Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 119

Hobbes, Thomas, The Leviathan (Cambridge University Press, first published 1651, 1909 ed)

Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Practical Philosophy, (Mary J Gregor trans, Cambridge University Press, 2006) [Trans of Grundlegung zur Metaphysik of Morals (first published 1785)]

Kennedy, Stephen, ‘Data and Dignity – Protecting the Truth of Real Things’ (2017) 7 Journal of Christian Legal Thought 20

Macnair, Mike, ‘Equity and Conscience’ (2007) 27 Oxford Journal of Cultural Studies 659

McGlynn, Clare, and Erika Rackley, ‘Image-Based Sexual Abuse’ (2017) 37 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 1

McGlynn, Clare, Erika Rackley and Ruth Houghton, ‘Beyond ‘Revenge Porn’: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse’ (2017) 25 Feminist Legal Studies 25

Meagher, R P, Heydon, J D, and Leeming, M J, Meagher, Gummow and Lehane’s Equity: Doctrines and Remedies (Butterworths, 4th Ed, 2002)

Morgan, David, ‘Harris v Digital Pulse: The Availability of Exemplary Damages in Equity’ (2003) 29 Melbourne University Law Review 377

New South Wales Law Reform Commission, Remedies for the Serious Invasion of Privacy in New South Wales, Report No 57 (2016)

Ong, Teck H, ‘Equitable Damages: A Powerful But Often Forgotten Remedy’ (1999) 4 Deakin Law Review 61

Position (EU) No 6/2016 of the Council at First Reading with a View to the Adoption of a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Protection of Natural Persons with regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data, and Repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) [2016] OJ C

Richardson, Megan, ‘Breach of Confidence, Surreptitiously or Accidentally Obtained Information and Privacy: Theory Versus Law’ (1994) 19 Melbourne University Law Review 673

Richardson, Megan, ‘The Battle for Rights – Getting Data Protection Cases to Court’ (2015) 2 Oslo Law Review 23

Richardson, Megan, ‘Whither Breach of Confidence: A Right to Privacy for Australia’ (2002) 26 Melbourne University Law Review 381

Rosen, Jeffery, The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America (Vingage Books, 2000)

Rudolph, Duane, ‘Workers, Dignity, and Equitable Tolling’ (2017) 15 Northwestern Journal of Human Rights 126

Samet, Irit, ‘What Conscience Can Do For Equity’ (2012) 3 Jurisprudence 13

Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, Parliament of Australia, Phenomenon colloquially referred to as ‘revenge porn’ (2016)

Stuckey, Jennifer, ‘The Equitable Action for Breach of Confidence: Is Information Ever Property? (2003) 26 Sydney Law Review 402

Victorian Law Reform Commission, Surveillance in Public Places, Report No 18 (2010)

Ward, Ian, ‘A Revenger’s Tragedy’ (2017) 11 Pólemos 437

Warren, Samuel D, Brandeis, Louis D, ‘The Right to Privacy’ (1980) 4 Harvard Law Review 193

Zhand, Eric, ‘The Application of Universal Laws to Particular Cases: A Defence of Equity in Aristotelianism and Anglo-American Law’ (1996) 59 Law and Contemporary Problems 263

Zylberman, Ariel, ‘Human Dignity’ (2016) 11 Philosophy Compass 201

B Cases

Attorney-General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd (No 2) [1990] 1 AC 109

Australian Broadcasting Commission v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd [2001] 208 CLR 199

Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457; [2004] UKHL 22

Canson Enterprises Ltd v Boughton & Co [1991] 3 SCR 534

Coco v AN Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1969] RPC 41

Commonwealth Bank of Australia v Smith (1991) ALR 453

Cornelius v De Taranto [2001] EMLR 12

Doe v ABC [2007] VCC 281

Douglas v Hello! Ltd [2001] QB 967

Douglas v Hello! Ltd [2006] QB 125

Duchess of Argyll v Duke of Argyll [1967] 1 Ch 302

Foster v Mountford and Rigby Ltd (1976) 29 FLR 233

Franklin v Giddins [1978] Qd R 72

G v Day [1982] 1 NSWLR 24

Gee v Pritchard (1818) 36 ER 670

Giller v Procopets [2008] VSCA 236

Google Inc v Vidall-Hall [2015] EWCA Civ 311

Imerman v Tchenguiz [2011] 2 WLR 592

Harris v Digital Pulse (2003) 56 NSWLR 298

Hellawell v Chief Constable of Derbyshire [1995] 1 WLR 804

James Rhodes v OPO [2015] UKSC 32

Kwok v Thang [1999] NSESC 1034

Lake v Wal-Mart Stores Inc, 582 NW 2d 231, 235 (Minn, 1998)

Lord Ashburton v Pape [1913] 2 Ch 469

Melvin v Reid 112 Cal App 285 (1931)

Moorgate Tobacco v Philip Morris Ltd (No 2) (1984) 156 CLR 414

Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Naidu (2007) 71 NSWLR 417

Pollard v Photographic Company (1888) 40 Ch D 345.

Prince Albert v Strange [1849] Eng R 255; (1849) 41 ER 1171

Saltman Engineering v Campbell Engineering (1947) 65 RPC 203

Stephens v Avery [1988] Ch 449

Swinney v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Force [1997] QB 464

Wainwright v Home Office [2004] 2 AC 406

Warman International Ltd v Dwyer (1995) 182 CLR 544

Wilkinson v Downton (1897) 2 QB 57

Wilson v Ferguson [2015] WASC 15

X v Y [1988] 2 All ER 648

C Legislation

Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Act 2017 (NSW)

Human Rights Act 1998 (UK)

Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)

Supreme Court Act 1986 (Vic)

D Other

Cadwalladr, Carol ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool:’ meet the data war whistleblower’, The Guardian (online), 18 March 2018 <https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump>

Cadwalladr, Carol, and Emma Graham Harrison, ‘Revealed: 50 Million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach’, The Guardian (online), 18 March 2018 <https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election>

Caldwell, Felicity, ‘Revenge porn to become a criminal offence under Labor’ Brisbane Times (online), 22 November 2017 <https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland-election-2017/revenge-porn-to-become-a-criminal-offence-under-labor-20171122-p4yx5i.html>

Lewis, Paul, ‘Trump adviser John Bolton worked with Cambridge Analytica on Youtube voter experiment’ The Guardian (online) 24 March 2018 <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/23/john-bolton-cambridge-analytica-videos-donald-trump>

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (Cth), ‘Statement from the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’ (Media Release, 20 March 2018) <https://www.oaic.gov.au/media-and-speeches/statements/


Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (Cth), ‘Investigation into Facebook opened’ (Media Release, 5 April 2018) <https://www.oaic.gov.au/media-and-speeches/


Ehrenkranz, Melanie, ‘Facebook Revenge Porn Case Shows How Police Let a Predator Get Away’ Gizmodo (online), 14 January 2018 <http://gizmodo.com/facebook-revenge-porn-case-shows-how-police-let-a-perpe-1822024163>

Kleeman, Jenny, ‘YouTube Star Wins Damages in Landmark UK ‘Revenge Porn’ Case’ The Guardian (online), 17 January 2018 <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/17/youtube-star-chrissy-chambers-wins-damages-in-landmark-uk-revenge-porn-case>