Media Law Handbook



5. Surveillance cases
3. What legal rules govern appropriation cases?

4. What legal rules govern intrusion cases?

Intrusion is the only one of the four privacy torts that does not necessarily involve a publication.  Instead, it is based on the idea that everyone is entitled to solitude or seclusion in some places and circumstances and that a person who wrongfully intrudes upon this “zone of privacy” may be liable for damages.

The elements of an intrusion claim are defined as follows:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.[14]

The 1992 edition of this handbook forecast that it was “highly likely that our courts would uphold an intrusion claim grounded on appropriate facts.”  Indeed, in 1996 the N.C. Court of Appeals permitted a husband to sue his estranged wife for intrusion for having installed a hidden camera in his bedroom.[15] This marked the first time either of our appellate courts formally recognized a claim for intrusion.  

The appeals court said intrusion “is committed when a person intentionally intrudes into the solitude or seclusion of another.”[16] Such an intrusion must be highly offensive to a reasonable person to be actionable.  In the Miller case, the court found the wife’s conduct so offensive as to allow the husband to seek punitive damages on his claims.  

Although intrusion cases in North Carolina have been few, intrusion cases from other jurisdictions generally fall into three categories: surreptitious surveillance, traditional trespass and cases in which consent to enter a private setting is exceeded by the defendant.  Potential problems of all three types arise frequently in the newsgathering process.


[14] Restatement (Second) of Torts §652B (1977).

[15] Miller v. Brooks, 123 N.C. App. 20 (1996).

[16] Id. at 26.  

5. Surveillance cases
3. What legal rules govern appropriation cases?

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