Can the Reasonable Person Still Be 'Highly Offended'? An Invitation to Consider the Civil Law Tradition's Personality-Rights Based Approach to Tort Privacy

33 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2008

See all articles by Karen Eltis

Karen Eltis

University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law; Affiliate- CITP Princeton

Date Written: November 20, 2008

Abstract

The privacy tort's coherent development away from the narrow 'right to be left alone', inhibited by connotations of physical space and proprietorship, may be well informed by comparative inquiry. Accordingly, this article undertakes to shine the light of comparative analysis on the dilemmas of American tort law, as they pertain specifically to privacy. In the context of the information age, the 'reasonable expectation of privacy' standard, so prevalent in the Anglo-American conception of tort, is falling into rapid desuetude. For not only does it appear to inadequately respond to contemporary circumstance, but tends to reinforce social tolerance of intrusions once deemed unreasonable. Paradoxically, the more we are watched, the less privacy we expect. The less we are bothered, the more we expect others to share in our complacency. Therefore, if privacy continues to be defined by reference to seclusion, technological imperatives necessarily dictate that the sphere in which one can reasonably claim solitude will contract. That in turn augurs poorly for the prevailing expectation-driven tort standard. In sharp contrast to what might be characterized as the Common Law's oftentimes rigid vision of privacy torts, the Civil legal method - captivated by the French and Quebec experience surveyed herein - favours a more flexible construction of actionable privacy infringements. Most importantly perhaps, privacy is deemed a "personality right" - an idea central to the Civilian tradition but alien to the Anglo-American system. Removed from the "reasonable expectations" doctrine and free of express references to seclusion, Civilian jurisdictions' principled approach to civil liability ('tort') seems better able to protect individual privacy in intangible fora (such as 'cyberspace'), regarding certain dignity-based personality rights as inalienable. Under this conceptual framework, human beings enjoy personality rights in private law by reason of their very personhood, regardless of express statutory or jurisprudential intervention, spatial or proprietary constraints. Conceiving the right to privacy as a personality right in civil liability ('tort'), allows the Civilian legal method to grasp privacy as a zone of intimacy delineated not by space or ownership but by the basic needs of personhood - as a right to preserve a state of mind of tranquility. Commeasurable with privacy management in the technology age, the Civilian (sometimes referred to as 'Continental') view of privacy as a personality right merits further examination with an eye towards informing the development of privacy torts in Anglo-American law.

Keywords: Law, Internet, Privacy, New Technologies, Comparative Law, Civilian Thought, Tort, Civil Liabilityiua

Suggested Citation

Eltis, Karen, Can the Reasonable Person Still Be 'Highly Offended'? An Invitation to Consider the Civil Law Tradition's Personality-Rights Based Approach to Tort Privacy (November 20, 2008). University of Ottawa Law & Technology Journal, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1304653

Karen Eltis (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law; Affiliate- CITP Princeton ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Dr
Ottawa
Canada

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