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Global first could open the legal floodgates

A Belfast judge's decision to award a convicted child abuser £20,000 after his personal details were revealed on Facebook could have massive implications, the plaintiff's lawyer has claimed.

Kevin Winters said the judgment sent out the message that there had to be proper policing of the internet.

The legal floodgates could now be wide open to anyone to make a claim against social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter if other users publish private information without consent.

Those users could also face legal action, as Joe McCloskey did.

Mr Winters, who represented the sex offender known only as 'CG', claimed the judgment represented the first privacy finding worldwide in relation to third party disclosure by Facebook members.

"For some time now the legal system has been playing catch-up with huge advances in the IT world and social media," he said.

"Today's ruling represents a massive leap forward for the courts in keeping pace with the era of the internet."

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Mr Winters also predicted: "There is potentially a huge cost because many people similarly aggrieved can now seek compensation as Facebook and other social media can now be held liable for their members' posting of private information on third parties without consent."

The lawyer for the sex offender said the ruling could also protect children and other vulnerable individuals being harassed and abused on social media.

"So this ruling is extremely important for those people, for many, many thousands of people and it extends beyond the remit of today's ruling," he said.

But Jim Gamble, the former head of the Child Explotation and Online Protection Centre, said: "The legal issues can be played out, but in the sheer impact of adding insult to injury, I can't help but think there could have been a better way to make this judgment."

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