With the shutdown of the News of the World in England, our own news has been full of stories about hacking into people’s cell phone conversations and data and invasion of privacy in general. While most of the coverage has focused on the outrageous actions allegedly undertaken by the now defunct newspaper, there isn’t a lot of talk about what remedies the victims have in this case. Of course, the laws in England and the U.S. are different, but at least here on our side of the pond, if you are the victim of an invasion of privacy, you may have civil remedies.
Generally, there are four different forms that invasion of privacy can take:
Intrusion of solitude is the type of invasion of privacy that we’re seeing in the news right now related to the News of the World shutting down. It basically refers to a situation where someone is snooping around in your private affairs without permission—maybe intercepting your phone calls or your mail or digging through private records. The key to recovery here is that the invasion of privacy must be one that a reasonable person would find highly offensive.
Appropriation of Name or Likeness
This type of invasion of privacy refers to a situation where an individual or business uses your name or your likeness—essentially, your appearance—for their own benefit and without permission. The idea behind this claim is that everyone is entitled to control how their name and likeness are used. It could arise if someone were to impersonate you to gain access to something or were to use a photo of you in an advertisement.
Public Disclosure of Private Facts
Everyone has facts about themselves that they wish to keep private and if someone discloses these facts to the public, it might be considered an invasion of privacy. There are two key issues here. First, if the facts are of public concern, then there is no invasion. This explains why a politician’s personal life might be drug out into the limelight. Second, the disclosure has to be offensive to a reasonable person—maybe because of what was disclose or how it was disclosed.
A false light claim arises when information about an individual is disclosed publicly and in a misleading way, to put that person in a “false light”. The information that is disclosed isn’t technically false information—so it’s not quite defamation—but it does mislead the public. Generally, this claim requires that information be made public in a reckless fashion, that the information places the victim in a false light, and that the disclosure be offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person.