Civil Claims for Violation of Privacy

AuthorBarbara Von Tigerstrom
When someone’s privacy is violated, one potential remedy is a civil
claim against t he person or persons responsible for the violation. Civi l
claims play a role alongside the admi nistrative and judicial mechan-
isms dealing w ith concerns about personal information, which are dis-
cussed in later chapters. Depending on the jurisdiction, context, and
nature of the violation, these claims could be based on a speci fic statu-
tory or common law tort for violation of privacy, other torts or causes
of action, or some combination of these. Canadian law in this area is
still evolving, as the court s recognize new causes of action and adapt
existing ones to addre ss the various types of wrongs t hat fall under the
broad heading of “violation of privacy.” In doing so, they have been
able to draw on experiences in other common law jurisdictions, some
of which are described in Section A below. Following sections will
discuss the statutory tort of violation of privacy that is available in
some provinces, the emergence of common law privacy torts i n Canada,
other causes of action that have been used in this context, and specific
claims available in Quebec.
Although many tort claims are broadly similar across common law
jurisdictions, there are significant dif ferences in the approaches taken
to distinct claims for violation of privacy. These differences reflect, in
part, a range of views about the interests that these claims aim to pro-
tect and how they relate to other causes of action w ith which they may
overlap. A review of these approaches is interesting in its own right
from a theoretical and comparative persp ective, and will also be u seful
in understanding how Can adian law in this area h as evolved, because it
has been inf luenced in important ways by the law in other jur isdictions.
1) United States
Many discussions of the development of privacy claims in the United
States take as their starting point two highly influential l aw review arti-
cles. In 1890, Warren and Brandeis called for the recognition of invasion
of privacy as a legal claim i n their article “The Right to Privacy.”1 React-
ing to the increasing publication of photographs and “unseemly gossip”
in newspapers,2 they argued that existing protections through the laws
of defamation, copyright, contract, a nd others were inadequate to protect
individuals’ intere sts in the modern era. The right to pr ivacy, which they
famously suggested was “merely an in stance of . . . the more general right
of the individual to be let alone,” was rooted in the principle of “inviolate
personality.”3 Publishing a photograph of a previously private individual
and public discussion of that per son’s private affairs were among the
types of conduct against which t he right would provide protection.4
Shortly before and after the time that Warren and Brandeis were
writing, US courts accepted some claims for what later came to be
referred to as appropriation of personality, that is, using someone’s
name or image without their consent.5 Over the years that followed,
a variety of other claim s were decided, dealing with the se and other
1 Samuel D Warren & Loui s D Brandeis, “The Right to Privac y” (1890) 4 Harvard
Law Review 19 3.
2 Ibid at 196. The immediate i mpetus for the article was w idely believed to have
been the unaut horized publication of photograph s from the wedding of Samuel
Warren’s daughter, although hi storical research h as since revealed that to
be unlikely ; press coverage of other events, includ ing deaths and funera ls in
Warren’s family, may have ra ised similar concer ns: Amy Gajda, “What if Samuel
Warren Hadn’t Mar ried a Senator’s Daughter?: Uncovering the Pre ss Coverage
That Led to ‘The Right to P rivacy’” (2008) Michigan State Law Revie w 35.
3 Warren & Brandeis, ab ove note 1 at 205.
4 Ibid at 213.
5 See, for example, Pavesich v New England Life Insuranc e Co, 122 Ga 190, 50 SE
68 (1905). Not all claims were succes sful; see, for example, Roberson v R ochester
Folding Box Co, 171 NY 538, 64 NE 442 (1902), in which a claim for use of a
young woman’s image to advert ise flour failed, le ading to the introduction of a
statute esta blishing the tort in New York.
Civil Clai ms for Violation of Privacy 57
types of violations. In another famous article, published in 1960, Dean
William Pros ser surveyed these decisions and suggested that they
should best be understood not as examples of a single tort, but rather a
complex of four distinct torts, “which are tied together by the common
name, but otherwise have almost nothing in common” and represent
the invasion of different kinds of interests.6 The four categories he set
out, each with its own r ules, are as follows:
1) Intrusion upon the pla intiff’s sec lusion or solitude, or into his
private affai rs.
2) Public disclosu re of embarrassing pr ivate facts about the plaintif f.
3) Publicity which places t he plaintiff in a fal se light in the public eye.
4) Appropri ation, for the defendant’s advantage, of the pla intiff’s
name or likenes s.7
Subsequent authors have challenged the assertion that these are di s-
tinct claims w ith little in common, arguing that common underlying
interests or principles can and should be articulated.8 Nevertheless,
the classification described in Pross er’s article, and later in the Second
Restateme nt of Torts,9 continues to provide the framework for pri-
vacy-related tort claims across the United States, with some vari ation
from state to state.10 As we will see below, it has also had a n important
influence on the development of common law privacy torts in C anada.
Intrusion upon seclusion applies where the defendant has i nten-
tionally intruded, physically or otherwise, into t he plaintiff’s private
space or private matters, and the intr usion would be highly offen-
sive to a reasonable person.11 The intrusion could take the form of,
for example, watching or photographing someone in a private place
such as one’s home, reading private correspondence or records, or lis-
tening to or recording a private conversation.12 The intrusion itself i s
6 Wil liam L Prosser, “Privacy” (1960) 48 California Law R eview 383 at 389.
7 Ibid.
8 See, for exa mple, Edward J Bloustein, “Privac y as an Aspect of Human Dig nity:
An Answer to De an Prosser” (1964) 39 New York University Law Review 962;
Ruth Gavison , “Privacy and the Limit s of Law” (1980) 89 Yale Law Journal 421;
Neil M Richard s & Daniel J Solove, “Prosser’s Pr ivacy Law: A Mixed Legac y”
(2010) 98 California Law Review 18 87.
9 Resta tement (Second) of Torts (St Paul, MN: American Law In stitute, 1977, Octo-
ber 2018 Update), Ch 28A, Invasion of Privac y [Second Restateme nt].
10 Nicole A Moreham & Mark Warby, eds, Tugendhat & Chri stie: The Law of Pri-
vacy and the Media, 3d e d (Oxford: Oxford Univers ity Press, 2016) at 96 [Tugen-
dhat & Christie].
11 Second Restate ment, above note 9, § 652B.
12 Ibid, § 652B, comment “b.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT