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 laws that 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 the release or sale of information and give 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 laws govern what information website owners and internet providers may store and release about the browsing activities of individuals.
Online privacy laws also govern things like the security of passwords and online financial activities including shopping and wiring money.
Individuals expect privacy in their homes.
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 an 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.
Who Practices Privacy Law?
Privacy laws touch on many different industries and types of law.
Attorneys who practice privacy law often focus on one subcategory of privacy law.
For example, an attorney may focus on the constitutional right to privacy.
An attorney may work in health law and focus on laws that relate to the privacy of health information.
Right to privacy laws are complex. Most attorneys have a full practice focusing on a single niche area of privacy laws.
Privacy law attorneys live and work throughout the United States.
They work in a wide variety of contexts.
For example, a privacy lawyer might work for a hospital advising their client on how to implement and comply with privacy regulations.
An attorney may bring a complex class action claim on behalf of individuals who are victims of an unlawful release of confidential financial information.
Even attorneys who do not focus exclusively on privacy law interact with privacy law issues.
For example, a family law attorney may have to grapple with how to admit medical information for a parent in a child custody dispute.
A criminal law attorney may object to the prosecutor wanting to call a spouse to testify to conversations between spouses.
All attorneys must be cognizant of the way that privacy laws may interact with their area of practice.
Privacy lawyers live and work throughout the United States.
They work in solo practice, and they work as in-house counsel.
Privacy lawyers also work for the U.S. government for a variety of agencies including the Federal Communications Commission.
Privacy lawyers also work to advise law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Why Practice Privacy Law?
There are a number of reasons that attorneys practice privacy law.
Privacy lawyers work in a variety of fields.
From communications law to health care law to even criminal law, attorneys who practice privacy law have the opportunity to work in an industry of their choosing.
In addition to offering career flexibility, privacy law issues are large-scale issues that impact all Americans.
Privacy lawyers have the opportunity to influence society through legal advocacy.
Privacy Laws in the United States
Privacy laws in the United States are always changing.
As technologies and social norms change, privacy laws change as well.
Privacy lawyers have the opportunity to create, enforce, and challenge privacy laws.
They work in a variety of diverse settings.
While some attorneys focus only on privacy law issues, many attorneys address privacy law issues as part of a practice that focuses on any one of a number of areas of law.