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Is There a 'Right to Privacy' Amendment?

The right to privacy embodies the belief that a person's private information should be free from public scrutiny and that we have a right to be left alone. As technology evolves, more and more of our personal information is in the hands of third parties. From e-commerce and email to smartphones and social media, advances in technology will continue to challenge our legal system and personal expectations of privacy.

It may come as a surprise that the Constitution of the United States does not specifically protect your right to privacy. In fact, state and federal laws can limit some individual privacy rights when there is a compelling government interest to do so. Protecting your rights starts with becoming familiar with the constitutional amendments, federal statutes, and state laws designed to keep your private information private.

Constitutional Privacy Rights

Even though the right to privacy is not specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, for cases such as Miranda v. Arizona or Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that several Amendments imply these rights:

  • The First Amendment provides the freedom to choose any kind of religious belief and to keep that choice private.
  • The Third Amendment protects the zone of privacy in the home.
  • The Fourth Amendment protects the right of privacy against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
  • The Fifth Amendment provides for the right against self-incrimination, which justifies protection of private information.
  • The Ninth Amendment, interpreted as justifying a broad reading of the Bill of Rights, protects your fundamental right to privacy in ways not provided for in the first thru the eighth amendments.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from making laws that infringe upon the personal autonomy protections provided for in the first thirteen amendments. Prior to the Fourteenth Amendment, a state could make laws that violated principles of racial equality or freedom of speech.

As technology evolves, laws concerning what is acceptable in collecting and using private information are also changing. These rules include those pertinent to due process. In 2014, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided in Riley v. California that the warrantless search and seizure of digital content on cellphones during arrests is unconstitutional.

Personal Information Protection

The federal government protects personal information through a series of laws, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the primary agency enforcing privacy policy since the 1970s. Through the following pieces of legislation, the right to privacy is meant to be protected:

  • Fair Credit Reporting Act: As one of the first federal privacy laws, it provides data protections for the personal financial information collected by credit agencies.
  • The Privacy Act of 1974: prevents the federal government from making unauthorized disclosures of personal information under its control.
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act: As a federal anti-hacking statute, it prohibits the unauthorized use of protected computers without prior authorization, including smartphones or other devices connected to the internet.
  • Children's Online Privacy Protection Act: COPPA imposes requirements on online services directed at children under 13, as well as those that knowingly collect information from children under that age. These entities must post their privacy policies, have an opt-out option, and provide certain parental controls.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act: This Act requires financial institutions to explain their information-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard sensitive customer information.
  • Health Information Portability and Accountability Act: HIPAA assures that an individual's health information is properly protected by setting use and disclosure standards.

Civil Law Privacy Protection

When there's an intrusion into your reasonable expectation of privacy, state laws provide a right of enforcement through civil tort law, allowing you to receive compensation. Although the specifics of these laws vary from state to state, the following four torts are based on the right to privacy:

(1) Intrusion of Solitude:

This form of invasion of privacy involves the interference with one's right to solitude or seclusion. For example, such an invasion of privacy would be at play when a person uses hidden cameras in your home or private office without your permission.

(2) Appropriation:

Appropriation occurs when a person's name, likeness, voice, or other personal characteristic is used without permission for the benefit of another party. As an example, let's say a company uses an actor to impersonate an NFL player for a television ad. If the player didn't authorize the imitation, and the impersonation is obvious, an appropriation may have occurred.

(3) Public Disclosure of Private Facts:

This tort protects against the unauthorized disclosure of details about a person's private life, and particularly when those details are not generally known. Usually, disclosure to one or two people does not constitute a public disclosure unless there is an implication that the information could be spread around.

(4) False Light:

An invasion of privacy can occur when the publicized information is misleading or somehow distorts the truth. Casting the subject of the publicized material in a "false light," the material must be highly offensive to the average person. It must also be publicized despite the knowledge that the information is false or with the publisher's reckless disregard for the falsity of the information.

Get a Review of Your Right to Privacy Claim

Enforcing your privacy rights can be complicated, and the law can vary based on where you live. Whether your personal information is being used in an unauthorized manner, or your right to be left alone was violated, an experienced attorney can help. Receive a claim review and stop the unnecessary stress and anguish caused by privacy invasions.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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