The Catholic University of America

Of Counsel - A Bulletin on Legal Issues at CUA - August 1999


Invasion of Privacy

There are a number of different laws that protect the "right to privacy" in different ways. For example, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal statute, it generally is a crime to intercept someone else's private e-mail message or to look into someone else's private computer account without appropriate authorization. The fact that you may have the technological ability to do so, or that the other person may not have properly safeguarded his or her account, does not mean that you have authorization.

If you do not know for sure whether you have authorization, you probably do not.

In addition to criminal prosecution and penalties, one can be sued for invasion of privacy. It can be an invasion of privacy to disclose intensely personal information about another person that that person has chosen not to make public and that the public has no legitimate need or reason to know. For example, disclosing the fact that someone has AIDS, if he or she has not revealed that information publicly, can be an invasion of privacy. Unlike defamation, a statement can be an invasion of privacy even if it is true.

Also see the Student Handbook sections on "Computer Ethics" and "Responsibilities of Computer Users" which addresses security and privacy warnings for the system as well as for the individual.

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