Suing the Media for Invasion of Privacy

Article excerpt

This trend has serious implications for the public's right to be informed about important issues resolved through litigation in state and federal courts. By limiting public scrutiny, secrecy reduces the accountability of judges and attorneys.

As technology makes information more readily and widely available, growing concerns about privacy rights have triggered myriad efforts to keep "personal" information confidential. This reaction is disastrous for journalists, creating new obstacles to their newsgathering efforts which undermine the First Amendment's free press provisions and freedom of information laws.

Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis were not happy with some of the things they read in the "yellow" press, particularly stories about parties thrown by Warren's wife, "blue blood" items that covered Mrs. Warren's social events in embarrassing detail. So they conceived a new kind of legal theory that would allow private parties to sue the media for invasion of privacy. In a Harvard Law Review article, they outlined situations where individuals could turn to the courts to punish the media for reporting news about them. Though the two attorneys envisioned a single cause of action, "invasion of privacy" actually includes four different types of lawsuits: intrusion, disclosure of private facts, false light and misappropriation.


Intrusion resembles the much older tort of trespass, and prohibits unauthorized entry into an area where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether or not such entry occurs for the ostensible purpose of gathering news. Intrusion is the only one of the four traditional invasion of privacy lawsuits to which newsworthiness provides no defense. …