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Invasion of Privacy


The right to privacy is the right to control information about yourself in two situations. You have the right to exclude information about yourself and you have the right to be left alone (Business Law, PBS episode aired December 15th).

Privacy and the Fourth Amendment

Invasion of privacy is a commonly used cause of action in a legal pleading. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States ensures that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The amendment, however, only protects against searches and seizures conducted by the government. Invasions of privacy by persons who are not state actors must be dealt with under private tort law.

The development of the doctrine regarding this tort was largely spurred by an 1890 Harvard Law Review article written by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis on The Right of Privacy . Modern tort law gives four categories of invasion of privacy:

  1. intrusion of solitude.
  2. public disclosure of private and embarrassing facts.
  3. false light
  4. appropriation of identity.

Intrusion of solitude

Intrusion of solitude occurs where one person exposes another to unwanted publicity. In a famous case from 1944, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was sued by Zelma Cason, who was portrayed as a character in Rawlings' acclaimed novel, Cross Creek. The Florida Supreme Court held that a cause of action for invasion of privacy was supported by the facts of the case, but in a later proceeding found that there were no actual damages.

Public disclosure

Public disclosure of private facts arises where one person reveals information which, although truthful, is not of public concern, and which a reasonable person would be offended by the release of.

False light

This tort encompasses the claim that publicity invades a person's privacy by a false statement or representation that places the person in a false light that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. For example, posting a picture of a chaste woman on a website that features pictures of porn stars would give rise to a false light claim, even though no claim is made that the woman is, in fact, a porn star.


Although this is a common-law tort, most states have enacted statutes that prohibit the use of a person's name or image is used without consent for the commercial benefit of another person.

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