If your personal data gets hacked, then why not file a lawsuit? That’s what Vermont librarian Jessamyn West did by successfully suing Equifax over its 2017 hack, which exposed the personal data over 140 million people.
A Vermont judge awarded West $690 for her claim—$90 of which covered the court papers she submitted. West’s lawsuit was largely symbolic—she did it with the explicit mission of displaying to citizens that they aren’t powerless when it comes to concerns over their personal information.
“A lot of people don’t feel they have agency around privacy and technology in general,” West, who works for the Randolph Technical Career Center, said in an interview with Krebs On Security. “This case was about having your own agency when companies don’t behave how they’re supposed to with our private information.”
Last fall, Equifax, a major credit reporting agency, announced a data breach that resulted in the theft of 143 million Americans’ personal data, including birth dates, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and more. A filling sent to the Senate Banking Committee by Equifax in February showed that the number of Americans affected could have reached over 145 million. The company continues to face government scrutiny and in May released additional information that said tens of thousands of driver’s licenses, passports, and additional forms of identification were exposed because of the breach.
Concerns over privacy and security have become ubiquitous in conversation about technology. The Equifax hack, due to its scale, drives home many of those concerns given that nearly one out of two Americans potentially saw their information compromised by this attack.
West says she wasn’t hoping to get a big payout but to instead illustrate just how consumers can hold companies accountable for mishandling their data. As she told Krebs, “I just wanted to change the conversation I was having with all my neighbors who were like, ‘Ugh, computers are hard, what can you do?’ to ‘Hey, here are some things you can do.’”