In a high-profile privacy lawsuit, former pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan won a $115 million jury verdict against Gawker for posting his sex video without his consent. Hulk Hogan, whose real name is TerryBollea, brought a lawsuit for invasion of privacy and other torts. Under one of the main privacy torts — public disclosure of private facts — one can be liable if one widely and publicly discloses private information about another that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and not of legitimate concern to the public.
A common argument made to justify First Amendment restrictions on privacy torts and defamation law is that legal liability will chill the media. I am generally sympathetic to these arguments, though only to a point. I think these arguments are often overblown. An interesting point of comparison is the UK, where there is a much weaker protection of free speech and much stronger defamation law. Although the UK has not embraced all of the privacy torts recognized in the United States, it has come close, recognizing a robust tort of breach of confidence. Despite the lack of a First Amendment equivalent, and the stronger legal liability for gossip and libel, the press in the UK seems anything but chilled or cowed. Consider J.K. Rowling’s recent testimony:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently upheld a school’s discipline of a student for engaging in off-campus cyberbullying of another student. In Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, — F.3d — (4th Cir. July 27, 2011), a student (Kara Kowalski) created a MySpace profile called “S.A.S.H.,” which she said was short for “Students Against Sluts Herpes.” Another student, however, claimed it really stood for “Students Against Shay’s Herpes,” referring to a student named Shay N. Kowalski invited about 100 people to join the page, and about 24 people joined.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately focusing on privacy issues at schools. I find these issues fascinating, and I have been working on them in the trenches, as I created a company last year to provide tools and resources to schools to help them better address privacy problems and to develop a comprehensive privacy program (or enhance their existing privacy program). The company is called TeachPrivacy. If you’re a school official (K-12, higher ed), a teacher/professor, or a concerned parent, please contact me if you’re interested in my project.
I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book, NOTHING TO HIDE: THE FALSE TRADEOFF BETWEEN PRIVACY AND SECURITY (Yale University Press, May 2011). Here’s the book jacket description: