How to Sue for Invasion of Privacy

If you feel that someone has invaded your privacy–in other words, someone has deprived you of your right to be left alone without harassment, especially in “private” spaces such as your home, you can file an invasion of privacy lawsuit.

The legal concept of privacy, however, is a tricky one. Unlike many other rights to which citizens are entitled, this concept is not included in the Constitution. Nor has it been spelled out in specific statutes or laws. Rather, the right to privacy has been defined, sometimes unclearly, by centuries of case law and precedent.

How can you tell whether something that has happened to you is actually invasion of privacy in the legal sense? Legal experts have come to agree on four specific forms or categories of invasion of privacy. Any given act may fall into any one, or several, or all of these categories. Here’s an overview:

1. Intrusion on Seclusion or Solitude

Put simply, you have the right to be left alone and in peace when in your own private area. Uninvited persons have no right to invade your private space. The most obvious intrusion would be physically entering your space, i.e. trespassing on your property. But it’s also intrusion if someone plants a microphone or video camera in order to observe you, or hacks into your computer.

Invasion of Privacy

Simply observing something through your open window generally generally doesn’t constitute an intrusion, but climbing a tree and using a telescope does. Unfortunately, this area of the law contains many “gray areas” since there is no specific guideline that can be used to determine when someone crosses the line from simply being nosy to committing an actionable tort. Intention is a major factor (i.e. did the person knowingly and willingly intrude on your private space?) but can be difficult to prove unless it leads to clearly observable actions.

2. Publicly Disclosing Private Facts

Making “private” information about you “public” can be invasion of privacy. And unlike slander or libel, the fact that the information is true does not automatically justify the actions of the perpetrator. Nor does the fact that the information was gathered using legal means shield the perpetrator from legal liability.

For example: let’s say you’ve been married three times, and someone is out to “get” you. He could (legally) go to the courthouses where your divorces took place and obtain copies of the divorce decrees, which might well contain a great deal of private information about your marriages, your assets, and so on. He could contact your ex-wives, friends, and acquaintances, and ask for them for information about what happened. He could also obtain any public criminal records about you that may exist. Using this information, such a person might be able to write a detailed history of your marital life.

But even if he was careful to stick only to provable facts, you could sue if he made this information public, for example by publishing it on the Internet.

Information about private individuals can only be made public when there is a reasonable and justifiable public interest in such information. If you’ve done something newsworthy—for example, committed a serious crime, given a speech attended by a large group of people, invented something significant, and so on—this can be reported on. But the mere fact that your marital life has been challenging and that some of your former spouses dislike you isn’t genuine news that the public has any reason to know. So no one has a right to publish it.

Note that people who enter public life have a lesser right to such privacy than those who don’t. To use the example above: a journalist can dig up details about a prominent politician’s marital and family life and publish it because voters have a right to learn about the character of someone wishing to represent them. Here too, there are many gray areas between where the public interest ends and private life begins.

3. Placing you in a false light

This is related to point (2). Publicly making statements, which can be true, with the malicious purpose of making you “look bad” can be invasion of privacy. If you’re running for county treasurer, it’s legal for someone to point out that you once declared bankruptcy. But to point this out at a town hall meeting which you are merely attending as a private individual might be a cause for a lawsuit. As a private individual, you have a right not to be intentionally exposed to public contempt, or held out as an example of something bad, unless there is a compelling interest in protecting someone else in doing so.

4. Appropriating your name, indentity, or likeness

This form of invasion of privacy is not to be confused with identity theft, in which someone assumes your identity to obtain credit cards, money, or the like.

Your name, face, and likeness belong to you as a private citizen. It would be invasion of privacy if someone wrote and published a story using your name (that isn’t a mere coincidence) or used your face in a cartoon.

Here again, very different standards are used for public and private figures. An interesting example arose during the 1990s in the wake of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. When the scandal broke, Halloween costume makers quickly ramped up production of Bill Clinton masks. As President of the United States, Clinton had to accept the fact that some people would publicly criticize him, which included ridicule in the form of masks, cartoons, and so on. But costume manufacturers could and did encounter legal troubles when they produced Lewinsky masks. As a mere White House intern with no public office, Lewinsky was considered a private individual. When she did something newsworthy (acts involving the president), that could be reported on. This, however, did not eliminate her legal right to privacy in matters of no concern to the public, nor did it entitle third parties to use her likeness for private, profit-oriented purposes.

So where does this leave you if you believe your privacy has unlawfully been invaded?

The above points can be used for general information and can help you understand how the legal concept of privacy functions. They should not, however, be construed as legal advice. If you want to sue for invasion of privacy, you should consult an attorney, who will be able to evaluate your specific situation, and will be able to advise you on how privacy law may be applicable to it.

11 thoughts on “How to Sue for Invasion of Privacy”

  1. My child has had the school invade her privacy, fail to provide education, safe learning arena. Deflemation of character,improper expultion, sexual misconduct (band teacher privately instructing her lessons every morning before school alone…he was caught sending his nude genital photos to my childs friend) , excessive punishment. I am reffering to the school district and said school. She is sick. Lost her best friend because school sent home a note to her friends parents listing my daughters name. All at the age of 13. She is the defender of everyone. Who defends her???? The list is just to long.

  2. I am going through a custody battle and my ex has given permission to this woman
    to do what ever it takes to make me comply with a stay away order temp.

    this woman, has texted me 300 times with nothing about the custody, but personal
    attacks, laughing at me about losing my son temp. shes called my boss, my friends and has told them the cops are coming to their house, and final left voice mess., threatening to rip my head off, and take me out. I have had hearings for civil harassment with the final one tomorrow, I feel she has invaded my privacy, is sick, and is turning my son against me, as she is in the home as a friend to my ex. she fills his legal paperwork out, and does not permit me to talk to the father of my son
    in anyway, can I sue her for invasion of privacy and intentional caused stress?

    • How did this work out for you? yes you have rights as well , and based on character you can have a restraining order placed on her,,, dont blame her for the actions of YOUR childs father. He has his own mind, and she may be just helping him. so focus on YOUR rights a s parent , and you may regain custody of your child, and when you do, do not use the child as a weapon of revenge, as fathers have rights to. focus on getting your child counseling to help through this parental issue. If you want to sue for anything that she does you may want to focus on proof, as only facts and proof stand in court,,,,

  3. My brother-in-law also my landlord was harassing me for a week over a phone my sister gave me as a gift. when i got sick from kidney failure i coluld not be her so called slave anymore so she made her husband come over to get the phone back i just got out of working 10 hours i said you can have it as soon as i get my dr. numbers off. well that wasnt good enough for them so then her husband barded his was into the house i ran from him he was full of rage i ran thru my living room then the two other rooms to the back door i ran out the door i was in fear of him. he i wanted to get back to the front door so i could hurry and get into the door and lock it. he beat me to the door and held the door shut so i could’nt get in the house away from him. he was saying to me what am i gonna do now i was scared for my life. at that point. While he was holding the screen door closed with his fist he cut my arm i called the police they didnt take him to jail i dont know why. can i sue him. thank you cynthia ostrom

    • I think this case was based on believablility, and how could he hold a door shut and cut you at the same time, while I could imagine him partially cracking the door and holding it with his foot,,, to hold the door with one hand and cut u with the other is a rather odd position. anyway I hope by now things are better. Oh and size could have mattered and if either party didnt seem sober.

  4. a timber company a log home developer /land / a hunting guide service /have ;put my wife in the ground and are trying to do me same way using multiple devices to make me sell or give up real estate worth over mill can I stop them or can I attack first /their allways callin my bluff /to the point of throwing trash all over judges property w/ad card from mail /threatening plus email comprimsed ..I know il have to move ..but I will they even called my doctor up a couple million suite might make them leave my family alone /dwt

  5. Imwasmwith de,from a job, after being there for 9years. Imwasmout on leave and not allowed,to return to the building to clear out my desk. I had a lot of personal information stored in my desk. My manager and,two co workers went through all my stuff and sent my personal items home. Doesn’t that count as an invasion of my privacy. Everyone else who leaves is entitled to two hours to clear out their personal items.

  6. My ex spouse recently (today) emailed me that she knows what i spent my money on because shes seen my bank statements. I told her that she was a stalker and asked how was this possible? Her response was that she has friends at the bank that feel from time to time to check on my spending habits. This tells me that her and her so called “friends” have been doing this for a while now. This is a total invasion of privacy, almost certainly violating company policy. Aren’t financial institutions suppose to safeguard their customers financial information? Can I sue them or at least prompt an internal investigation to have my ex’s “friends” fired? Can I also sue my ex for “stolen information”? A federal violation? She obtained my bank statements without my consent. This is not right. Your thoughts are welcome 🙂

  7. Hi I have a person living in a tent right next to my property. He works for the company and has permission from the owner. There is no fence and I see his tent when I drive up to work. His windows are open in his tent and I feel like I can not use my side yard because the tent is two feet from my property line. I hear his music and movie watching. Is the a breach of privacy.

  8. I have been going through years since 1998 of Invasion of Privacy and invasion of my mind harassment and sexual harassment . I do have a Gang Cyber Surveillance stalking case pending an investigation right now Sat. April 25, 2015
    that I do want to sue for damages.


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