In the recent case of Harvey v Niland 2016 (2) SA 436 (ECG), the applicant, Mr Harvey, and the first respondent, Mr Niland, were the only members of a close corporation, Huntershill Safaris CC, which offered professional hunting services to its clients. Niland was employed by Huntershill as a professional hunter and safari guide until mid 2015. Around that time, Harvey and Niland parted ways on bad terms and Niland took up employment with another hunting company, Thaba Thala Safaris.
Harvey suspected Niland of breaching his fiduciary duties to Huntershill by acting in competition with Huntershill, and soliciting and diverting its clientele to Thaba Thala. A colleague provided Harvey with Niland’s Facebook login details. This enabled Harvey to access Niland’s Facebook account without Niland’s permission. Harvey then downloaded Niland’s Facebook communications which showed that Niland had been actively soliciting Huntershill’s clientele and diverting them to Thaba Thala.
Harvey then brought an urgent application to interdict Niland from soliciting Hunterhill’s clientele on the basis that these solicitations were causing financial and reputational damage to Huntershill. Niland argued that the communications had to be struck out because they infringed his right to privacy and were obtained through the commission of an offence under s 86(1) of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002. A central issue before the court was whether the Facebook communications unlawfully obtained by Harvey could be admitted.
The court dismissed Niland’s claim to privacy and held that the hacked posts, while revealing duplicitous conduct on Harvey’s part, were essential to Harvey’s case and could not in practice have been procured in another lawful way. In the circumstances Niland’s appeal to privacy rang hollow and would need to be overridden by the public interest that his deceitful conduct be exposed. The meant that the evidence illegally obtained by Harvey was admissible and Niland’s application to strike the evidence out was dismissed.
Of interest is the court’s reasoning in this case. The court explained that:
It would appear from additional comments of the court in Harvey v Niland that the right to privacy is more limited when one uses a social media platform such as Facebook to issue certain communications. The person issuing those communications cannot expect to rely on the violation of his/her privacy if those communications are then brought to light, whether the communications were obtained legally or illegally.
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