Invasion of Privacy

Imagine you have accidentally left a personal note which has private information on a public park bench, and that note was picked up and read by somebody else. Although the sharing of this piece of information destroys your reputation or causes harm to another person, it is not a violation of your privacy. It will need a “reasonable expectation” of privacy when the note was not left out in public where any can pick and read it. However, if you are having a private conversation in your home and a neighbor uses an electronic gadget to eavesdrop, which will cause certain form of injury, then your expectation of privacy is violated. For invasion of privacy refers when there is intrusion upon your reasonable expectation to be left alone. Here is basic information about the main forms of invasion of privacy claims, a civil tort which is controlled by the state laws.

There are four major forms of invasion of privacy claims, namely:

  • Appropriation of Name or Likeness
  • False Light
  • Intrusion of Solitude
  • Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Appropriation of Name or Likeness

Plaintiff may file for a claim for damages when the person or a company uses his/her name or likeness for the benefit without the other party’s consent. Generally, this entails a business utilizing the name or likeness of the celebrity in an advertisement. There are several states that restrict this form of invasion of privacy tort to the commercial uses.

For instance, a private detective who imitates somebody to get confidential information invades the privacy of that individual. The credit of this tort is the same to the property rights, which means that the name or likeness of an individual is treated as the property of the individual. For the celebrities, this is usually referred to as the “right of publicity.”

A sample case: An advertising agency contacted Tom Waits, a musician, in 2005 with regards to ad campaign for a new vehicle. Waits, who has a distinct and easy-to-recognize voice, refused. So the advertisers employed somebody else who sounded like Waits to do the soundtrack. This made Waits to file charges the manufacturer of the vehicle for appropriating his likeness.

False Light

A claim for false light is the same with defamation where it permits an individual to charge for public disclosure of information which is deceiving or place an individual in a “false light,” but not technically false. The main difference is that defamation claim applies only to the public broadcasting of false information and sometimes the First Amendment protection succeeds.

Basically, the following elements must be present in a false light claim:

  • A publication by the defendant about the plaintiff;
  • It was done with careless disregard;
  • It puts the plaintiff in a false light; and
  • It will be highly embarrassing or offensive to a reasonable individual.

As a sample: A 96-year old woman filed charges against an Arkansas newspaper in 1992 for printing her picture next to the headline, “Special Delivery: World’s oldest newspaper carrier, 101, quits because she’s pregnant!” The woman, who was actually not pregnant, was given damages amounting to $1.5 million.

Intrusion of Solitude

When someone intrudes into an individual’s solitude or private affairs, physically or not, is held responsible if the intrusion is highly offensive to a reasonable individual. This form of invasion of privacy is usually related to “peeping Toms,” somebody unlawfully intercepting private telephone calls, or prying through the private and confidential records of somebody else.

While taking pictures of somebody in public is not included but using a long range camera to take pictures of an individual inside his/her home will qualify this intrusion of solitude case. When one or two unsolicited telephone calls may not comprise a privacy invasion but persistent harassment by calling repeatedly after being asked to stop will qualify. Unlike other types of invasion of privacy, this intrusion of solitude does not need to be published of private facts or pictures but the mere act of intrusion alone already violates the law.

As a sample: a certain man with binoculars climbs a tree in his backyard regularly and watches a woman across the street undress through the window of her bedroom. Her injury is the emotional distress she experiences when she sees the perpetrator watching her.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts

This public disclosure of private facts should be assessed against the protection of free speech contained in the First Amendment. Unlike the defamation, whether libel or slander, the truth of disclosed information is not a defense. Legal action is taken when the person publicly shows truthful information which is not a public concern and a reasonable person will find it offensive if it is made public.

For instance, a woman who is about to deliver a baby through caesarian section consents to the operation filmed for educational purposes only, but rather, it is shown to the public in a commercial theater. This is an invasion of her privacy, however, publishing an article about the politician who is known for his family values rhetoric but who is having an illicit affair with an employee is of public concern. Therefore, this is not an invasion of his privacy. The New York and several states do not acknowledge this form of claim.

As a sample: A maiden name of a former prostitute who was acquitted of a murder was shown in a movie about the case in 1931. Since the trial of the case, she transferred to another place, got married and adopted a new lifestyle. Her new friends did not know about her past, so the disclosure of this true but very embarrassing information was decided as invasion of her privacy.

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