Mar 152014
 March 15, 2014  Posted by  Court, Online

Our names, addresses, and telephone numbers are generally pretty easy to find online, and usually not considered particularly sensitive information like gender orientation, medical diagnoses, or other types of information. Indeed, I can’t think of a single state data breach notification law that would require notification if the only data obtained or compromised were name, address, and telephone number.

But does posting someone’s name, address, and telephone number – even if they’re publicly available all over – ever constitute an invasion of privacy? And if it might, under what circumstances?

Deshayla Strachan reports that Robert and Gladys Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s parents, have sued Roseanne Barr, claiming that the comedienne’s tweeting of their address forced them to flee from their home and was an invasion of their privacy.

If a hacker had obtained a commercial database that listed that information and dumped it on the Internet, would anyone think that a lawsuit for invasion of privacy would stand a snowball’s chance in hell?

What about the context, though?

“Roseanne Barr knew at the time of her tweets and her threat to personally come to the Zimmerman’s home that it was an open and obvious call for vigilante justice and were intended by Roseanne Barr to cause a lynch mob to descend on Robert Zimmerman and Gladys Zimmerman’s Home,” the lawsuit states.

The Zimmermans claim Barr’s tweets were outrageous and intended to cause them harm or death.

The claim seems to cite Twitter’s TOS that prohibits posting personal information without the individual’s consent. But so what if Barr did violate Twitter’s TOS? Does Twitter’s TOS create a privacy right for the Zimmerman’s or anyone else? I do not see how it does.

There have been many instances of “doxing” (posting people’s personal information) in the past few years. Many instances are motivated by political disputes, but some seem to be encouraging harassment of the individual(s) being doxed. This case seems to be one of those.

But can a lawsuit like the Zimmerman’s prevail if this gets to trial? I suspect it will settle, but what do you think of its chances in court? And would it matter if the Zimmerman’s had gone to get pains to keep their details private by having an unlisted phone number? Real estate/home ownership records are public records.

I can see where knowingly publishing the name, address, and phone number of someone who has been relocated for their personal safety might be an invasion of privacy. But what privacy rights do most of us – as non-public figures – have in this regard?

You can read more about the lawsuit on Courthouse News.

  2 Responses to “George Zimmerman’s Parents Sue Roseanne Barr”

  1. While I agree with you that simply tweeting or publishing public info probably isn’t and shouldn’t be the basis for a cause if action I actually would not characterize it as a privacy claim I think it’s something more akin to a harassment suit or some type of incitement to violence. And I think that kind of claim would have merit. I think the tweet was at best an implied invitation to go harass them and at worst a call to action. I think that kind of behavior should be actionable whether the info is public or not.

  2. We agree that this seems harassing and if I were on the jury, I could see “the reasonable person” feeling fear for their safety as a result of the tweet. I was just responding to the notion/question as to whether a tweet that doxes can be an “invasion of privacy” if the info is publicly available.

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