Page:Right to Privacy.djvu/5

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
197
THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY.

It is our purpose to consider whether the existing law affords a principle which can properly be invoked to protect the privacy of the individual; and, if it does, what the nature and extent of such protection is.


Owing to the nature of the instruments by which privacy is invaded, the injury inflicted bears a superficial resemblance to the wrongs dealt with by the law of slander and of libel, while a legal remedy for such injury seems to involve the treatment of mere wounded feelings, as a substantive cause of action. The principle on which the law of defamation rests, covers, however, a radically different class of effects from those for which attention is now asked. It deals only with damage to reputation, with the injury done to the individual in his external relations to the community, by lowering him in the estimation of his fellows. The matter published of him, however widely circulated, and however unsuited to publicity, must, in order to be actionable, have a direct tendency to injure him in his intercourse with others, and even if in writing or in print, must subject him to the hatred, ridicule, or contempt of his fellow-men,—the effect of the publication upon his estimate of himself and upon his own feelings not forming an essential element in the cause of action. In short, the wrongs and correlative rights recognized by the law of slander and libel are in their nature material rather than spiritual. That branch of the law simply extends the protection surrounding physical property to certain of the conditions necessary or helpful to worldly prosperity. On the other hand, our law recognizes no principle upon which compensation can be granted for mere injury to the feelings. However painful the mental effects upon another of. an act, though purely wanton or even malicious, yet if the act itself is otherwise lawful, the suffering inflicted is damnum absque injuria. Injury of feelings may indeed be taken account of in ascertaining the amount of damages when attending what is recognized as a legal injury;[1]


  1. Though the legal value of "feelings" is now generally recognized, distinctions have been drawn between the several classes of cases in which compensation may or may not be recovered. Thus, the fright occasioned by an assault constitutes a cause of action, but fright occasioned.by negligence does not. So fright coupled with bodily injury affords a foundation for enhanced damages; but, ordinarily,fright unattended by bodily injury cannot be relied upon as an element of damages,even where a valid cause of action exists, as in trespass quare clausum fregit. Wvman v. Leavitt, 71 Me. 227; Canning 7. Williamstown, 1 Cush. 451. The allowance of damages for injury to the parents'