What is Privacy Law?
Privacy law is the collection of laws that relate to the gathering, storage and use of personal information. In the information age, both government entities and private businesses want access to personal information. Information privacy laws address an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy in society and their right to privacy as they go about their business. Privacy laws govern how others may use personally identifying information.
Types of privacy rights
A person may have an interest in keeping information private in many different contexts. Here are some of the topics that privacy laws may cover:
A person may have a right to confidentiality in some forms of communication. A right to privacy in communication occurs in many different contexts. For example, most states have wiretapping lawsthat govern when an individual may record a conversation that occurs in private. There are also laws that control when a government agency may obtain information about a person’s phone calls or even listen to their phone calls without the knowledge of the private citizen. People may have a right to privacy in communication in other contexts. For example, many states don’t require a person to testify in court about things that their spouse tells them in confidence. In addition, an attorney may not disclose things that their client tells them in confidence. Privacy laws in the context of communication determine when another person or a government may listen to or disclose the communications of another person.
Individuals often expect that what they say to a doctor is confidential. They expect privacy when it comes to what medical treatment they receive and the prescription medication they take. The United States has laws that aim to protect the security of medical information including limiting the ability of medical care providers to disclose information to third parties. Despite the right to privacy in medical treatment, there are exceptions in some contexts. For example, in many family law courts, parents can admit medical information in order to show the physical or mental fitness of the other parent.
Today, financial transactions happen electronically more than ever before. As sales and banking activities move online, individuals and even businesses are left to wonder about the privacy of their financial information. Financial institutions such as banks need to take care in order to ensure the privacy of customer information. Federal laws including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 attempt to balance customer privacy interests with the need to use the information for day-to-day purposes. The laws prevent release or sale of information and gives consumers the right to opt-out of certain types of information sharing.
Each time you use the internet, there may be footprints left about your activity. Internet privacy lawsgovern what information website owners and internet providers may store and release about the browsing activities of individuals. Online privacy laws also govern things like security of passwords and online financial activities including shopping and wiring money.
Individuals expect privacy in their home. When law enforcement can enter a home without permission or conduct surveillance on a home is a question of privacy law. The United States Constitution and most state constitutions prohibit law enforcement from entering a home without authority. In some cases like emergency or hot pursuit, law enforcement does not need to have a search warrant in order to enter a home. Privacy laws also govern issues like the use of private or government drones in home surveillance.
The right to privacy in United States law
The law looks at the right to privacy as the right to be left alone. Although there is no right to privacy in the United States Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has identified an implied right to privacy in several amendments to the U.S Constitution. For example, the Fourth Amendment protects the right to be free from search and seizure. The Fourteenth Amendment protects and individual’s right to due process before government deprivation of life, liberty or property. The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to assemble with others that they choose. Through various Court decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the right to privacy in family, marriage, reproduction and child rearing. In Griswold v Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot limit access to contraceptives. The Griswold court said that people have a right to privacy with respect to their personal lives and it is unconstitutional to deny disadvantaged groups access to contraceptives. They said that it is a breach of the right to privacy to allow the police to investigate whether individuals use contraceptives. In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the right to privacy to a person’s right to choose to have an abortion. The issue of whether abortion should be legal and under what circumstances remains a matter of debate. In Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the right to privacy to invalidate government laws prohibiting homosexual activity.
Invasion of privacy
Invasion of privacy is a civil tort in the United States. Invasion of privacy occurs when a person or company releases the personal or private information of an individual without authority in a way that is offensive to the aggrieved individual. Invasion of privacy may include intrusion into private affairs, disclosing private information that is embarrassing, portraying an individual in a false light and misappropriation of another’s name and likeness. Invasion of privacy may allow a victim to claim compensation for actual financial losses and emotional distress.
Privacy laws and public figures
Public figures generally do not have the same right to privacy as private individuals. While U.S. law recognizes the right to privacy, citizens also have an interest in free and open debate about public issues. Public figures have a high burden of proof when it comes to holding another person accountable for invasion of privacy.
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