In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, reality television, and over-sharing on Twitter and Facebook, is it still possible to have any sliver of actual privacy? Well, of course there is. No one is forcing you to share where you had lunch and exactly what your lunch looked like to your friends and family, or in the case of Twitter, to an innumerable amount of strangers.
Even public figures have a right to privacy. The issue is pertinent because of the recent death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya. After his death, CNN found his personal diary and after promising his family not to do so, reported on its contents, according to the Associated Press.
Could Stevens family sue CNN for its use of information found in the diary?
There are multiple actions that could give rise to an invasion of privacy lawsuit. Claims can be based on someone intruding upon your seclusion, disclosing a private fact, appropriating your likeness, or painting you in a false light. We’ll focus on intrusion and disclosure of a private fact.
Intrusion upon seclusion occurs when a person gains access to your private data or private location without permission. Common examples include “Peeping Toms” or someone intercepting your telephone calls.
Disclosing private facts occurs when true facts about your life that are not of public concern are made public. The best example would be how long you spend in the bathroom. There is no reason that the public would need to know this and it could be harmful to your reputation (if your friends and coworkers were jerks).
Here, there would be issues with a disclosure of private facts claim because the information revealed from the diary was of public concern. More specifically, if CNN is right, the information was used as a news tip that was then researched and reported on, according to the AP. The news then reported was about a concern that the consulate in Benghazi was under threat of attack, which is of public concern.
However, there could be a claim because the diary was read and passed around the CNN newsroom, according to the AP. This could be enough of a disclosure of the facts that were not of public interest to support a claim against the news agency.
An intrusion upon seclusion claim could also be difficult, because the diary was found on the ground of the unsecured consulate after the attack, according to the AP. It would also not be intrusion on the diary itself because it was likely not marked “private” or otherwise.
However, once it was discovered that it was a private diary, it could have then been an intrusion to send the diary around the newsroom and to read it completely.
This is a complex case that would require a much more thorough analysis to determine if it was worth pursuing. There are further questions concerning whether the right to privacy survives a person’s death and exactly how the diary was handled by CNN. It’s likely that Steven’s family has contacted a lawyer to help them decide whether any legal action should be taken after CNN’s brash use of this information.
- Protect Your Privacy - Online Privacy (FindLaw)
- Privacy in Prison? US Supreme Court Hears NJ Case (FindLaw’s Philadelphia Criminal Law News)
- Balancing Act: Public’s Right to Know versus Family’s Privacy (FindLaw’s Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog)