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October 20, 2005

The Right to Privacy

In our democracy, somehow the right to privacy has to be balanced with the public’s right to know.

The AP Stylebook attributes the right of privacy doctrine to an 1890 Harvard Law Review article entitled “The Right to Privacy.” Louis Brandeis, one of its co-authors, complained that the press was becoming too intrusive, a complaint still echoed 115 years later. Brandeis, who subsequently became a Supreme Court justice, wrote in his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States the following poignant statement.

“The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone ─ the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”

From Brandeis’ article, four qualifications for the misuse of the “right of privacy” have been developed: 1) misappropriation of name or likeness, 2) public disclosure of private facts, 3) intrusion upon seclusion, and 4) false light. Of course, the delineation between a public figure and private citizen affects their application. According to the AP Stylebook, “people [who] become involved in a news event, voluntarily or involuntarily, forfeit the right to privacy.

One right-of-privacy case in which a woman sued and won involved the use of a photo. A woman in hair curlers, house dress, and sandals was secretly photographed relaxing on her front porch. The photo was published in conjunction with a hot-weather, feature story. She won because the photograph did not involve a “newsworthy incident.”

Posted by NancyGregg at October 20, 2005 9:34 PM