Invasion of privacy is an intrusion on a person’s right to be left alone. Unreasonable interference with a person’s confidential information, public image, or individual solitude may constitute an invasion of privacy.
Civil law remedies have been successfully applied to invasion of privacy claims. The four traditional types of privacy suits are disclosure, false light, intrusion, and appropriation.
- Disclosure: More accurately called “public disclosure of private facts,” this claim involves widespread dissemination of confidential information that a reasonable person would object to having made public. Thus, disclosure involves facts that are true, but that are also private. Matters of public record are not confidential. The court will weigh the defendant’s right to free speech against the plaintiff’s right to privacy. If the information was of legitimate public concern, the disclosure is protected speech.
- False light: A false light claim involves widespread dissemination of a major falsehood about the plaintiff that would be highly offensive to the average person. The falsehood can involve technically true facts if they are presented in a misleading way. The falsehood is said to place the plaintiff in a “false light” in the public eye. This type of claim is similar to a claim for defamation, but is broader because the plaintiff does not need to show economic harm. In the interest of free speech, if the matter was of legitimate public concern, the plaintiff must also show malice – knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth – by the defendant.
- Intrusion: More specifically called “intrusion upon seclusion,” this claim involves invading or prying into the plaintiff’s solitude or affairs in a place where the plaintiff has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and in a way that would be highly offensive to the average person. There is no requirement that the defendant physically enter the plaintiff’s property. For example, taking pictures through a person’s bedroom window is an intrusion because people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes.
- Appropriation: Appropriation involves unauthorized use of the plaintiff’s picture or name for commercial advantage and is similar to a right of publicity claim. Appropriation claims are typically limited to promotions or advertisements for products and services. Newspapers and magazines are protected by a newsworthiness exception, even if they are largely motivated by profit.
Available remedies for a successful invasion of privacy claim include monetary damages and, if the invasion is otherwise likely to continue, an injunction or restraining order. Plaintiffs in invasion of privacy cases are not required to prove specific economic loss; emotional distress and mental anguish are enough to bring a civil suit.
The two main defenses to invasion of privacy claims are consent and privilege:
- Consent: Consent means the plaintiff gave the defendant permission to carry out the act. For example, a plaintiff might consent to being recorded or photographed. Some states require consent to be in writing. Consent is not a valid defense where the defendant’s conduct exceeded the scope of the consent, or where the defendant was mistaken as to whether consent was given.
- Privilege: As discussed above, for claims of false light and disclosure, the defendant’s conduct is protected if the disclosure was a matter of legitimate public concern. To recover the plaintiff must show that the disclosure was false and that the defendant knew of its falsity or acted with reckless disregard for the truth; otherwise, the disclosure is privileged.
Privacy laws can be complicated and may vary greatly depending on the situation at hand. It’s in your best interests to hire a government attorney in your area if you are facing any legal issues with privacy rights. Your attorney can inform you of your rights and can assist you with research and representation during trial.