Most privacy laws are state-specific, so look to your state laws for the specifics (we hope to eventually include each state’s laws here; for now, here’s California privacy law). That said, most states follow the federal standard, which is that you have privacy rights in situations where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in your home. Generally you don’t have privacy rights as to what you do in public.


Privacy & the Internet

What is “revenge porn”? and is it illegal? 

Revenge porn is when you agree to have someone take nude pictures of you, where you have an understanding that the photos will remain private, but later that person posts the photos online (or otherwise send them to people), intending to cause you emotional harm. It is now illegal in 24 states and counting.

Can someone post a picture of me that I don’t like?

It depends on the state, but generally if you are in a public place, people have the right to take photos of you and use them for noncommercial purposes. The definition of what is public vs private gets very context specific, but a private place is generally one where most people would have an expectation of privacy. But whether in public or not, if someone tries to make money from a photo of you without getting your consent, then you can probably sue them for that.

Privacy for children under the age of 13

Websites that get any information from children under 13 must:1Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, found at U.S. Code Title 15, Section 6501

  • post a privacy policy
  • notify parents directly before collecting personal data from children, and obtain their consent (parent can stop consenting any time)
  • implement procedures to protect kids’ personal info

Privacy & the government

What are my privacy rights with regard to the police/government?

You have the right to be free from “unreasonable” searches by the government/police of your body or anything you are wearing, your home, and some other personal areas.2U.S. Constitution, 4th amendment. Also see Brinegar v U.S. (1949) This essentially means that before law enforcement is allowed to search you, they must convince a judge that they will find evidence of a crime in the search, and if the judge agrees, he/she will issue a warrant.3the legal term for this is “probable cause” which means that a police officer reasonably believes it is more likely than not that you have committed a crime. This is a highly complex area of law with many specific rules that are constantly evolving. If you think your rights have been violated, you should definitely speak to a lawyer who specializes in criminal and constitutional law.

For more specifics, see Police Conduct.

Can the government collect and store bulk records on all Americans?

No. The National Security Agency used to have the power to collect records in bulk, such as when the government required Verizon to turn over all of its millions of customers’ phone “metadata.”4metadata includes the number dialed, how long the call was, etc., but generally not the content of the call But they can’t do this anymore.5USA Freedom Act

Medical records

Do my health care providers or other professionals have the right to share my medical information with others without my permission?

Generally, no. They must protect the privacy of your medical records.6U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 45, Sec. 164.508 The relevant law is called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and here is a fun example of a violation.

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