“Wow, Madeleine, you sure picked a great area of law. You are going to be busy!”
I have encouraging friends. They don’t often start telephone conversations so overtly encouraging, mind you, but still, it is nice…
“Oh, thank you. Yes, I really believe in dispute resolution, resolving family issues efficiently, reducing conflict as much as possible….”
“Ashley Madison, Madeleine! Didn’t you hear?”
Now let me back up and explain a few things:
1) I am the new articling student at Hart Legal.
2) I am excited and eager to start my career in family law, especially with a firm that holds the same values as I do.
3) Up until yesterday I had never heard of Ashley Madison.
If you are as un-hip as I apparently am, I will catch you up to speed: Ashley Madison is a website, but not just any old website. It is an online-dating service marketed to people who are already married or in a committed relationship. The website’s tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair.” It is also incredibly popular – Ashley Madison itself claims to have over 39 million subscribers in 46 countries.
So what is it about this website that warranted yesterday’s phone call? Hackers.
Back in July, a group of hackers that call themselves the “Impact Team” threatened to leak the personal data of all of Ashley Madison’s subscribers unless the site –and its sister site EstablishedMen.com- were removed. The sites remained active and so, on Tuesday, the hackers dumped over 9.7 gigabytes of personal information, including subscribers’ names, addresses, financial information, sexual orientation, etc.
I think my friend meant her comment to be light-hearted but I have two very serious concerns here.
First, this data dump may lead to a temporary rise in the number of separations and divorces. Though in Canada we have a no-fault system, a history of infidelity may make proceedings especially hostile. We at Hart Legal care a tremendous amount about our clients’ well-being and though the breakdown of a relationship is never easy, we aim to provide efficient, quality service, so that our clients’ transition runs smoother. We cannot, however, change the facts and individuals who are somehow connected to this data dump face months of difficulty.
Second, privacy breaches are extremely serious. When it comes to family law, we live in a progressive country but we must not forget our exceptional fortune. Ashley Madison is accessible to users in India, for example, where homosexuality is punishable by incarceration. Subscribers in India who were having affairs with persons of the same gender face not only familial repercussions, but the potential of criminal charges in a very public arena. Closer to home, in the American military, adultery may be punishable by confinement for one year and dishonourable discharge. One report suggests thousands of subscribers’ email addresses belonged to military personnel.
We at Hart Legal are following this story closely. We are concerned about the impacts of this data dump, both at home and around the world.
Ashley Madison’s tagline may be “Life is short. Have an affair.” but for those caught up in this mess, life may seem pretty long for the next while.