Invasion of privacy is an intrusion into an individual's private life, without justification and without that person's consent.
The law seeks to balance an individual's right to privacy with freedom of the press, which is provided to all Americans under the First Amendment to the Constitution. This gives newspapers and other media sources the right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the government. However, media sources can be charged with invasion of privacy if the intrusion into a person's private life is unjustifiable.
Every state has its own laws covering four distinct types of invasion of privacy: intrusion, public disclosure, false light and appropriation.
Intrusion Upon Seclusion
Intrusion upon seclusion occurs when a person invades another person's private affairs, such as by trespassing on his property, recording private conversations or taking pictures of him in his home without his knowledge. You can be charged with invasion of privacy if you've intruded into a person's private affairs and a "reasonable person" would object to this intrusion.
Public Disclosure of Private Facts
Every person has the right to keep her private life private. If another person makes facts about your private life public that are not newsworthy – in other words, of a legitimate concern to the public – and if a "reasonable person" would find the publication of those facts offensive, this might be deemed to be an invasion of privacy. This applies even if those facts are true.
Examples include facts about your health, sexual history or financial status. To satisfy the "publication" element, the law requires that the private information is published to a public forum accessible by large groups of people. Media sources are often sued by high-profile individuals for making private facts about them public knowledge, such as by publishing articles about them in newspapers, magazines or online.
False Light Publicity
False light publicity occurs when someone produces false statements about a person or depicts that person in a false manner. For example, a writer might embellish, distort or fictionalize a news story, characterizing a person in a way that distorts the truth. The information might be true, but it's disclosed in a way that's misleading or damaging to the person. Additionally, the information that placed the person in a false light must be highly offensive to a "reasonable person."
False light publicity isn't the same as defamation. Someone can condense or fictionalize a story without adding malicious intent to it, and some states do require proof that the defendant acted with actual malice.
Appropriation of Name or Likeness
Appropriation of name or likeness refers to the unauthorized commercial use of a person's name or image without his knowledge or approval. Appropriation laws prevent the use of your identity by another person without your consent.
For example, a company can't use a celebrity's name or image to promote a product without that celebrity's permission and consent. The court must be satisfied that the unauthorized use of the person's name or image caused injury to that person to make a finding of appropriation, and it must have benefited the defendant economically or in some other way.
Invasion of Privacy Claims
You must have evidence of a violation under the type of invasion you're alleging in order to bring a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. For example, gather copies of the newspaper article, email message or other document containing the facts if you're alleging public disclosure of private facts.
A lawsuit must also be brought within the statute of limitations in your state. This is the maximum amount of time you can wait to sue after the event which you're alleging occurred. The statute of limitations normally runs from the date of first publication of the offending facts in publication of private facts cases. Statutes of limitations vary by state, but they're typically between one and three years.