Invasion of Privacy: What Are the Limits?

Can a person’s privacy ever be invaded legitimately?

Courts in the US have generally ruled that privacy can be invaded IF:

  • the disclosure of private facts is “newsworthy,” meaning the public has a legitimate interest in this matter.
  • a celebrity or public person has voluntarily revealed private information about themselves, but then objects when a news organization reveals more information that might contradict their self-serving depictions.
  • For example, suppose a presidential candidate or religious leader portrays himself as a great family man, preening for photos, preaches frequently about the importance of family and expresses harsh judgments about the lifestyles of others who do not meet his high standards. But then a publication reveals how he has betrayed his family and the sorry state of his relationships. Is this not a matter of legitimate public interest?
  • See “Making your personal affairs a matter of public concern.”
  • However, a Florida jury in 2016 ruled that the online publication Gawker egregiously violated the privacy of the wrestler/celebrity Hulk Hogan, awarding him $115 million in damages: $55 million for economic harm and $60 million for emotional distress. Additional money might be awarded for punitive damages against the publication.
  • Debate at New York Times site.
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