If you physically enter a private area, photograph or take video of people engaged in private activities in places where they reasonably expect to be private, or in some other other way intrude into a person's privacy (by, for example, opening the person's mail), you could be liable for a violation of what is called "intrusion upon seclusion." If you collect certain personal data, this can also intrude into a person's private affairs. In the newsgathering context, the actual collection of the data could be seen as intrusion if the method you use meets the four general elements for an intrusion claim.
Generally speaking, however, you will not be liable for intrusion if you photograph or capture video of people in public places, even if they have not consented to being recorded, because individuals cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy when in public. Nor will you be liable for intrusion if you gather private information from documents that are available to the general public.
If you plan to gather private information or take photographs or video of people engaged in private activities in places where they could reasonably expect to be private, you should:
- Review the Elements of an Intrusion Claim to determine whether your actions could open you up to liability.
- Read the section of this guide on the Statute of Limitations for Intrusion, which describes the time limits for filing an intrusion lawsuit.
- Consider adopting the recommendations in our section on Practical Tips for Avoiding Liability When Gathering Private Information.
You should know that it is not necessary that you publish the photographs or information you gathered; an intrusion claim rests solely on the way in which you gathered your information. If you do subsequently publish the private information you gathered, however, you could also face liability for what is called "publication of private facts." See the section on Risks Associated with Publication in this guide for more information on the risks you may face if you publish private information.