Personal Injury Exposure Arising From Technology - This Time, It's "Ratters"
"Ratters" can watch you through your computer webcam without your knowledge: A remote hacker who installs software to control another person's webcam can record all of the victim's actions and post photos or videos of the unsuspecting victim online or trade the content with other online voyeurs.
The term “ratters” is derived from "Remote Access Tools" (or RATs). According to a March 14, Yahoo News article, “Ratters” – They Watch Through Your Webcam, "[T]his scenario is happening more and more; there are myriad photos and videos available online indicating the practice is getting easier and more popular with an online community called Ratters...They call the owners of these infected computers “slaves,” and compromising videos, especially of female slaves, are openly traded, and posted on YouTube...While this type of unauthorized computer intrusion is clearly against the law, the fight against Ratting is a challenge. There are many free or low-cost programs already available online, attackers are not usually local or in close proximity to victims, and while any one forum of Ratters could be shut down, others could easily pop up elsewhere."
Violation of the right of privacy is covered under Personal Injury provisions, either attached to or contained in Homeowners policies and Personal Umbrella policies, if the violation of the right of privacy results from published material. These actions are also covered under Commercial General Liability and Commercial Umbrella policies. If the "ratter" has Personal Injury coverage and posts photos or videos onto Internet sites, the ratter may have coverage for any ensuing lawsuit brought by the victim of these acts and/or damages awarded by the courts in such litigation.
While this exposure may be predominantly a Personal Lines issue, there have already been a couple of instances that highlight the Commercial Lines exposure:
- A lawsuit alleged that a large furniture rental chain provided customers with computers that allowed the company to "track keystrokes, take screen shots and even snap webcam pictures of renters using the devices at home..."
- Another lawsuit, filed against a Philadelphia school district alleged that the district used school-issued laptop webcams to spy on students' without their knowledge or permission and "potentially catching them and their families in compromising situations..." The school district reportedly gave laptops to all of its 2,300 students. Whether any of the activity in these two instances led to items being "published" remains unknown.
To date, most Personal Injury litigation has arisen from posting defamatory or disparaging comments onto electronic media. The majority of these suits are settled out of court with the settlement amounts remaining confidential. The cases that have gone to trial have resulted in over $100 million in verdicts. I suspect new litigation involving "ratting" will add to the costs of Personal Injury coverage granted under both Personal and Commercial Lines policies.