You meet someone who remembers you from years ago. You chat briefly with him, but you have another commitment, so you excuse yourself.

Later, you realize you would have liked to talk more with him about what he recalls from elementary school history. So, you decide to look for him. Go for it, as long as you are careful not to invade his privacy.


If he gave you his phone number or email address, you are not invading his privacy because he was inviting you to contact him. But if he didn’t, you want to respect boundaries in your search.

In a 1963 case, the Maryland Court of Appeals recognized invasion of privacy as a tort — a wrongful act that exposes the perpetrator to civil, but not criminal, liability. The court ruled in favor of a security guard who lost his job after an acquaintance told his employer that he had been charged in an incident years earlier while employed by the Navy. The guard had been acquitted of the charges. The person who disclosed the incident violated the guard’s privacy, the court held.

A person searching for another is likely to disclose information to others who may help her locate the individual. How does she know when she is crossing the line between trying to reconnect with someone and illegally invading the other person’s privacy?

Invasion of privacy is a common law violation in Maryland, not a statute adopted by the General Assembly. That means we know it is a civil offense because courts or long-held customs have defined it as an offense. Judges have recognized four intrusions that may constitute invasion of privacy: intrusion on solitude; public disclosure of private facts; false light; appropriation of an individual’s name or likeness.

Intrusion on solitude can be a physical invasion of a person’s home or room, but can also include eavesdropping through wiretaps and microphones, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held in a 1964 case that involved a couple’s privacy in their bedroom. The limits are exceeded where details that the plaintiffs never sought or expected to become public have become so, the court ruled.

You may intrude on your friend’s solitude if, for example, you take a video of him getting out of his car, going to a door and escorting a woman to the car. The actions seem ordinary, unless he is married, the woman is not his wife and this is not a business relationship.

Public disclosure of private facts is the security guard’s case.

False light means making public information about someone that is false or misleading and would be embarrassing or offensive to a reasonable person. Suppose you tell others that the man you are looking for was expelled for bringing a gun to school. If it is untrue and his reputation is damaged, you may be liable for portraying him in a false light.

Appropriation of a person’s name or likeness can be a situation such as taking an image or video of a person, then using the image for commercial purposes without the person’s consent.