Privacy – frequently asked questions
The law of privacy/confidentiality can be complex and is invariably highly fact-specific. This Q&A is designed to provide guidance only. When faced with a breach (or potential breach) of your rights in privacy/confidentiality or under the Data Protection Act, you should always seek advice from specialist privacy lawyers. A list of our lawyers is here.
- What is misuse of private information?
- What sort of information do the courts regard as private?
- I am a public figure - do I have a right to privacy?
- What defences can be relied on in a claim for breach of privacy?
- Someone has threatened to publish embarrassing photographs of me - can I stop it?
- What remedies can I get for a breach of my privacy?
- Are there other laws that might help me stop unauthorised use of photographs?
- Is there a time limit for bringing a claim for breach of privacy?
What is misuse of private information?
This is a breach of your privacy, and may occur if private and non-trivial information about you has been disclosed without your consent.
An invasion of privacy can be defined legally as an unjustified disclosure of private and non-trivial information about an individual (including images), which causes distress to the individual. Recent cases have acknowledged that all persons, including public figures and celebrities have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Although this claim has developed from the law of confidence (confidentiality), it is now substantially different from the traditional breach of confidence claim.
What sort of information do the courts regard as private?
There is no fixed definition of private information. Information about your sex life, medical history or about your family and home life will usually fall into this category. The court will ask whether or not you had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Photographs taken in a public place might still be private if they were taken without consent on a private occasion.
I am a public figure - do I have a right to privacy?
Yes, but what you can reasonably expect to be private might not be the same as for an individual with no public profile.
What defences can be relied on in a claim for breach of privacy?
The main defence is that there is a public interest in disclosure, or that the material has already been made public.
Someone has threatened to publish embarrassing photographs of me - can I stop it?
You may be able to get an injunction preventing publication or get the agreement of the person threatening to publish not to do so, if you have not consented to publication and the publication would amount to an infringement of your privacy. It is important to act quickly. The damage is usually done once the material has been published.
What remedies can I get for a breach of my privacy?
Once private information has been published you can claim damages and an injunction preventing further publication.
Are there other laws that might help me stop unauthorised use of photographs?
Yes. You also may own the copyright in photographs, and as an individual will have rights under the Data Protection Act 1998 to protect your personal data, including photographs of you.
Is there a time limit for bringing a claim for breach of privacy?
Yes. A claim for breach of privacy must be brought within 6 years of the private information being published.