As the recent leak of information relating to Huawei and Britain’s 5G network (which resulted in Gavin Williamson being fired as the defence secretary) shows, it is important to be aware of what constitutes ‘confidential information’ and the potential implications of disclosing confidential information to others without consent.

Revealing confidential information can have a big impact on both businesses and individuals and the financial losses through the disclosure of confidential information can be significant. The recent Huawei leak demonstrates the importance of confidentiality and the consequences when secrets get out.

What is confidential information?

It is a general principle that a person who has received information in confidence cannot gain an unfair advantage from it at the expense of the person disclosing the information.

To be protected by the law of confidential information, information must:

  1. Have the necessary quality of confidence.
  2. The information must have been disclosed in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence.

For example, information shared in company meetings can constitute confidential information. Or information which is shared in confidence to an employee. Care must be taken to avoid accidentally (or deliberately) sharing confidential information with others as damages can be sought if the leak causes harm.

Trade secrets, such as secret formulae, are another aspect of confidential information which those privy to are under an obligation to keep secret. The formula for Coca Cola is a typical example of an extremely valuable trade secret and so it is not surprising that the recipe is known only to a handful of people.

Further reading: Keeping Information Confidential.

Implications of unauthorised disclosure/use of confidential information

Remedies can be pursued in the event of a successful action in breach of confidence in the courts, notably:

  • Injunctions – these prevent people from doing something and/or prevent them from doing something in the future.
  • Damages or an account of profits.

There are also other potential consequences such as the loss of employment and/or reputation which can be severely damaging.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of confidential information, then please contact Michael Lam by email at michael.lam@bhwsolicitors.com or call 0116 402 7240.


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