Press Freedom and Privacy


By Freedom Forum

When does gathering information cross the line to invading privacy?

Many different types of conduct can cause someone to file an intrusion or invasion-of-privacy lawsuit. Common examples include:

  • Trespassing on private property without the owner’s consent.
  • Installing hidden cameras or other secret surveillance equipment to monitor someone’s behavior.
  • Harassing someone by continually following them.

When does publishing information cross the line to invading privacy?

Generally, to be an invasion of privacy, the material published must be private information that isn’t of public interest and its disclosure must be “highly offensive to a reasonable person.”

This could include disclosure of sexual orientation, medical history, or other personal, private facets of a person’s life.

What about HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, limits the kinds of information that medical providers, hospitals and various government agencies can disclose. It does not regulate what independently obtained health care information the news media can report. Such information may be published or broadcast freely. Many newsrooms have policies limiting the publication of information about minors or the deceased, for example, and may choose not to report this kind of medical information.

The pressing question is whether the information is newsworthy or of legitimate concern to the public.

Newsworthiness is evaluated by examining factors like the social value of the disclosed material, the depth of intrusion into personal life and the extent to which the person is already in public view.

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