Is There a 'Right to Privacy' Amendment?

The right to privacy embodies the belief that a person’s private information should be free from public scrutiny and that we have a right to be left alone. As technology evolves, more and more of our personal information is in the hands of third parties. From e-commerce and e-mail, to smart phones and social media, advances in technology will continue to challenge our legal system and personal expectations of privacy.

It may come as a surprise that the Constitution of the United States does not specifically protect your right to privacy. In fact, state and federal laws can limit some individual privacy rights when there is a compelling government interest to do so. Protecting your rights starts with becoming familiar with the constitutional amendments, federal statutes and state laws designed to keep your private information private.

Constitutional Privacy Rights

Even though the right to privacy is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has found the several Amendments imply these rights:

  • First Amendment: Provides the freedom to choose any kind of religious belief and to keep that choice private.
  • Third Amendment: Protects the privacy of the home.
  • Fourth Amendment: Protects privacy against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
  • Fifth Amendment: Provides for the right against self-incrimination, which justifies the protection of private information.
  • Ninth Amendment: This amendment is interpreted to justify a broad reading the Bill of Rights to protect privacy in ways not provided for in the first eight amendments.
  • Fourteenth Amendment: Prohibits states from making laws that infringe upon the protections provided for in the first thirteen amendments. Prior to the Fourteenth Amendment, a state could make laws that violated freedom of speech, religion, etc.

As technology evolves, so do the rules governing the collection and use of private information. In the 2012 unanimous Supreme Court decision reviewing the constitutionality of warrantless searches of cell phones, the Court held that the personal information contained in cell phones and other handheld devices is just as worthy of protection as more traditional types of information and records.

Personal Information Protections

The federal government protects personal information through a series of laws enacted by Congress. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the primary agency enforcing privacy policy and enforcement since the 1970s.

  • Fair Credit Reporting Act: One of the first federal privacy laws. It protects the personal financial information collected by credit agencies.
  • The Privacy Act of 1974: Prevents the federal government from making unauthorized disclosure of personal information under its control.
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act: A federal anti-hacking statute that prohibits the unauthorized use of protected computers without prior authorization, including smart phones or other devices connected to the internet.
  • Children's Online Privacy Protection Act: COPPA imposes requirements on online services directed at children under 13, as well as those that knowingly collect information from children under the age of 13. These entities must post their privacy policies, have an opt-out option, and provide certain parental controls.
  • Financial Monetization Act: Requires financial institutions to explain their information-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard sensitive customer information.
  • Health Information Portability and Accountability Act: HIPAA assures that an individual’s health information is properly protected by setting use and disclosure standards.


Civil Law Privacy Protection

When there’s an intrusion into your reasonable expectation of privacy, state laws provide a right of enforcement through civil tort law, allowing you to receive compensation. Although the specifics of these laws vary from state to state, the following four torts are based on the right to privacy:

Intrusion of Solitude

This form of invasion of privacy involves the interference with one’s right to solitude or seclusion. For example, if a person uses hidden cameras in your home or private office, this would be an intrusion into your seclusion.

Appropriation

Appropriation occurs when a person’s name, likeness, voice or other personal characteristic is used without permission for the benefit of another party. As an example, let’s say a company uses an actor to impersonate an NFL player for a television ad. If the player didn’t authorize the imitation, an appropriation occurs.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts

This tort defends against the unauthorized disclosure of details about a person’s private life that are not generally known. Generally, disclosure to one or two people does not constitute a public disclosure unless there is an implication that the information should be spread around.

False Light

An invasion of privacy can occur when the publicized information is misleading or somehow distorts the truth. The false light must be highly offensive to the average person and be published with knowledge or in reckless disregard of whether the information was false or would place the person in a false light.

Get a Free Review of Your Right to Privacy Claim

Enforcing your privacy rights can be complicated, and the law can vary based on where you live. Whether your personal information is being used in an unauthorized manner, or your right to be left alone was violated, an experienced attorney can help. Receive a free claim review and stop the unnecessary stress and anguish caused by privacy invasions.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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