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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, called torts:

  1. Appropriation of Name or Likeness
  2. Intrusion Upon Seclusion
  3. False Light
  4. Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Below, you'll find explanations and examples of each. The different types of invasion of privacy offenses often overlap since they have similar legal issues. Be aware that state invasion of privacy laws vary on whether they recognize these causes of action. They also vary on what elements are necessary to prove them. Check your state's laws or consult a personal injury 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 commercial use. Misappropriation or theft of one's likeness can trigger a lawsuit. Typically, these claims involve the unauthorized use of a person's name or picture.

While state laws vary, the general elements of appropriation are the following:

  1. Someone used your name, likeness, or identity;
  2. They used it for their benefit, whether the benefit is economic or otherwise;
  3. You did not consent to their use; and
  4. Their use of it injured you

Intrusion Upon Seclusion

Intrusion upon seclusion or intrusion of solitude laws protects your right to privacy while in solitude or seclusion. This right extends to you or your private affairs. The perpetrator could be a snooping peeping tom or voyeur.

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 (you have a reasonable expectation of privacy at home)
  • Eavesdrop on your private conversations

The offender must take specific actions to be liable. There are two main elements for intrusion upon seclusion:

  1. Someone intruded into your private affairs, isolation, or solitude without your consent or approval; and
  2. 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 the website includes a photo with a caption that says you were participating in the protest.

Generally, the elements of false light are as follows:

  1. Someone publicly disclosed information about you;
  2. The information portrayed you in a false or misleading light; and
  3. The way you were portrayed is 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 or private figure. Check your state's laws or consult a lawyer if you have a claim. Not every state recognizes this claim – they require proof that the statements made are false.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Public disclosure of private facts laws protect you from having the details of your personal life made public. This offense occurs when someone reveals private information or confidential information in a public forum such as a social media platform or a magazine.

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:

  1. Someone published information about your private life;
  2. A reasonable person would think the information is highly offensive; and
  3. The information is not a legitimate public concern

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

A 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, letting school district personnel turn on the laptop webcam anytime. 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 showed students studying, speaking to family members, and 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 a valid claim of invasion of privacy, it's vital to seek the help of a qualified lawyer for sound legal advice. Filing a legal claim protects your rights. It can also compensate you for emotional and mental distress and any financial or reputational harm caused by the invasion of privacy. Speak with a defamation attorney to learn more. Forming a client relationship with an experienced personal injury attorney can be accomplished with a phone call.

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