Norwich Pharmacal Orders Ireland - Google, Coinbase, Twitter, Facebook

Cosgrove Gaynard Solicitors

A Norwich Pharmacal Order is a legal order that is used to compel an innocent third party to disclose information about another party who is involved in some form of malfeasance. Norwich Pharmacal Orders are becoming a common legal tactic to stifle online trolls on social media, as well as trace anonymous individuals online

What is a Norwich Pharmacal Order and How is it Affecting Anonymity Online?

A Norwich Pharmacal Order is a legal order that is used to compel an innocent third party to disclose information about another party who is involved in some form of malfeasance. Norwich Pharmacal Orders are becoming a common legal tactic to stifle online trolls on social media, as well as trace anonymous individuals online.



What does a Norwich Pharmacal Order do?



A Norwich Pharmacal Order a type of order used in Irish courts to compel a respondent to disclose specific information or documentation to the applicant. They are normally used to help identify a defendant so that legal action can be brought against them.

Issues such as online trolling and anonymous actions online have become entwined in Norwich Pharmacal Order in Ireland. Due to large multinational companies opting to headquarter their companies in Ireland, Norwich Pharmacal Order are becoming increasingly common in Irish courts as Ireland is the applicable jurisdiction to bring an application for an order required by anyone seeking this information in Europe.

Norwich Pharmacal Order are currently one of the only ways to accurately reveal the identity of anonymous parties online on social media forums or websites, or indeed on online exchanges or accounts.

Norwich Pharmacal Order are normally made against an individual or party who is not directly involved in the root legal case. Instead, they are usually involved as third parties (social media websites or platforms) who hold the required information about the defendant. For example, if someone is intending to bring a defamation claim against someone who has posted online, they firstly need to identify who the individual is behind the online alias ie the individual behind a facebook account, twitter handle etc. A Norwich Pharmacal Order allows the courts to compel a third party ( ie the social media platform or service provider involved) to provide the relevant information or documents that could identify the defendant. For instance a Norwich Pharmacal Order could result in the following information being provided:

1. The email address used when the account was set up;

2. The IP address used when the account was set up;

3. The name and any Identity documentation furnished when the account was set up.

As mentioned, in Ireland, Norwich Pharmacal Orders are becoming more commonplace because these large companies are headquartered in Ireland and fall under the legal jurisdiction of Irish law.



Twitter and Norwich Pharmacal Orders



Twitter has been the subject of a number of Norwich Pharmacal Orders in Ireland.

Twitter have overall been compliant when it comes to tweets causing issues. When notified Twitter may take action to delete the offending tweets or indeed entire accounts however they will not immediately provide the users details and this is where you are required to obtain a Norwich Pharmacal Order against Twitter to obtain the required information.

The case of  Collier, Riley, and Oberman v Bennett 2020 outlined what is required for a Norwich Pharmacal order to be granted to identify anonymous Twitter users.

In 2020 there was also a further case in which Fastway Couriers obtained Norwich Pharmacal relief from the High Court against Twitter to provide information on the identity of the operator of an account which posted comments which could be deemed to be defamatory. The posts also used the name and logo of Fastway which infringed its copyright. The court ordered that Twitter disclose any information it possessed regarding the individual (s) who created the account.

Prior to instituting proceedings , Fastway had written to Twitter and requested that the fake account be removed. The response from Twitter was that on review of the complaint , it did not violate its terms of service and therefore it would not remove the account in the absence of a court order.

There is a separate article in which we cover the ramifications of social media platforms acting in such a manner as regards defamation proceedings. In short, the defamation proceedings should be brought against the individual who created the post in the main however social media platforms can also be held accountable under defamation laws, once notified of the defamatory posts if they fail to take the necessary action to remove the material.



Google and Norwich Pharmacal Order


Google has taken a similar approach when it comes to Norwich Pharmacal orders.

In the case of Portakabin Ltd v Google Ireland Limited 2021 the court determined that a Norwich Pharmacal Orderwould be granted to reveal the identity of anonymous users sending nefarious emails.

In July 2021 Portakabin Limited sought an order from the High Court against Google Ireland for a Norwich Pharmacal order forcing Google to disclose information about the user of a Gmail account in which it was claimed this account had been used to defame Portakabin. The Judge granted the order directing Google Ireland to provide all information held regarding the owner/operator of the email account which was responsible for the defamatory emails.



Facebook, Instagram and NPOs



Both Facebook and Instagram have shown to be cooperative when it comes to NPO applications. It is important that applicants preserve as much evidence from the Facebook and Instagram platforms as possible.


Coinbase and NPOs



Coinbase is a unique case for Norwich Pharmacal Orders because their main selling point is anonymity. The bitcoin vendor was brought to the High Court in May 2021 under an NPO application involving bitcoin. The Williams v Coinbase Europe Limited (High Court Record No. 2021/348P) involved an American individual who had bought cryptocurrency through the platform, but it disappeared.

To track down his funds, the complainant hired a cryptographic tracing firm who found the money in a crypto wallet of an Irish individual. Coinbase was unwilling to reveal the identity of this Irish individual due to GDPR and contractual obligations. It took an NPO application to the High Court for Coinbase to disclose information relating to the Irish defendant. The information included IP addresses, email addresses, login details and other contact information.

There are of course other uses for Norwich Pharmacal orders:

Counterfit goods and Norwich Pharmacal orders

Montblanc-Simplo, the German luxury goods manufacturer, obtained an order from the High Court requiring a social media company to provide the registration details of the companies or people behind a series of advertisements appearing on the social media site which were alleged to promote counterfeit Mont Blanc goods.

Student discipline - online use

A case saw the use of Norwich Pharamcal orders to discpline students as opposed to defamatory action.

In Board of Management of Salesian Secondary College (Limerick) v Facebook Ireland Limited [2021] a case was brought against Facebook further to a large amount of posts being created on an Instagram account about the school and certain staff. The school wished to discover who was behind the account however Facebook confirmed they would only disclose this information with a court order. The High Court noted significant issues of data protection, freedom of expression, and privacy and referred certain questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Will a Norwich Pharmacal Order always be granted by the Courts in Ireland

In short no. It must be shown that there is a good reason to justify the production of the information against that individuals right to privacy etc,

In the case of Muwema v Facebook Ireland Limited 2017 the High Court in Ireland refused a Norwich Pharmacal Order brought against Facebook in a case where the applicant sought the identity and location behind an account holder with Facebook which they alleged posted defamatory content online.

The court refused the Order on the basis that if Facebook disclosed this information, it would endanger the life of this third party account holder and so their right to life was superior to the applicants right to uphold their good name.

Interestingly though, whilst the court refused the Norwich Pharmacal relief, it did so on the condition that Facebook notified the account holder that they should remove the offensive posts within 14 days of the Judgment being delivered. If that person failed to do so, the court ordered that the Applicant was entited to renew his application for Norwich Pharmacal relief which would be granted.



In essence, Norwich Pharmacal Order applications have shown to be very effective at ensuring companies disclose information that would otherwise be unobtainable. Whether it is online trolls or cryptocurrency theft, Norwich Pharmacal applications are quickly becoming a mainstay in Irish courts.

If you think you may need a pharmacal order, please contact a solicitor in Ireland or a Dublin solicitor.

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