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What Is Invasion of Privacy?

Invasion of privacy through computers, laptops and cameras

Invasion of privacy is the unjustifiable intrusion into the personal life of another without consent. It generally consists of the following four distinct causes of action:

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

Below, you'll find explanations and examples of each. Be aware that states vary on whether they recognize these causes of action and what elements are necessary to prove them. Check your state's laws or consult a lawyer before bringing legal action.

Appropriation of Name or Likeness

Appropriation of name or likeness laws protect your right to control the use of your identity for a business or economic purpose. Typically, these claims involve the unauthorized use of your picture or name. While state laws vary, the general elements of appropriation are the following:

  • Someone used your name, likeness, or identity
  • They used it for their benefit, whether the benefit is economic or otherwise
  • You did not consent to their using it
  • Their use of it injured you

Intrusion Upon Seclusion

Intrusion upon seclusion laws protect your right to privacy while in solitude or seclusion. This right extends to you or your private affairs.

For example, it is an invasion of privacy for your neighbor to do the following:

  • Peek through your windows
  • Take pictures of you in your home
  • Eavesdrop on your private conversations

Following are the general elements for intrusion upon seclusion:

  • Someone intruded into your private affairs, seclusion, or solitude without your consent or approval
  • reasonable person would think the intrusion is objectionable

The intruder does not need to tell anyone what they saw or heard during the intrusion to be liable for intrusion upon seclusion.

False Light

False light laws protect you from disclosure of misleading or damaging information about you. This includes disclosing information that may be true but is nonetheless misleading or damaging.

For example, suppose a photographer takes a picture of you watching a protest. It could be an invasion of privacy if a newspaper prints the photo with a caption that says you were participating in the protest.

Generally, the elements of false light are as follows:

  • Someone publicly disclosed information about you
  • The information placed you in a false or misleading light
  • The information would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities

In many states you also must prove that the person who disclosed the information acted with either:

Which of the above you must prove depends on whether you are a public figure or a private person. Check your state's laws or consult with a lawyer if you think you have a claim.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Public disclosure of private facts laws protect you from having the details of your private life made public.

For example, it is likely an invasion of privacy if someone publishes information about your:

  • Health
  • Sexual conduct
  • Financial troubles.

While state laws vary, the general elements of disclosure of private facts are as follows:

  • Someone published information about your private life
  • A reasonable person would think the information is highly offensive
  • The information is not of legitimate concern to the public

Generally, the publisher must publish the information in a way that makes it substantially certain to become public knowledge.

Popular Example in the Media

The Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania loaned laptops to its students for the school year. The laptops had anti-theft protection that let school district personnel turn on the laptop webcam at any time. The students were unaware of the anti-theft protection.

School district personnel used the anti-theft function to take thousands of pictures of students without their consent or knowledge. The pictures were of students studying, speaking to family members, and even sleeping.

In 2010, the school district paid a six-figure sum to settle an invasion of privacy lawsuit.

Learn More About Invasion of Privacy Claims

If you believe you have suffered an invasion of privacy, it's vital to seek the help of a qualified lawyer. Filing a legal claim protects your rights. It can also compensate you for emotional and mental distress as well as for any financial or reputational harm caused by the invasion of privacy. Speak with a defamation attorney to learn more.

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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