Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Embarrassing Family Facebook Photos and Invasion of Privacy

OK, I don't usually write about Minnesota state court opinions on harassment restraining orders (HROs)... but this one is a Facebook case, and they're 1. interesting; and 2. fairly new, so we'll take judicial input where we can find it.

A guy in Minnesota petitioned the court for an HRO because his uncle "posted multiple photos of various family members on his Facebook page." The petitioner asked the uncle to remove the photos, or alter them to remove the petitioner. The uncle refused, but removed the "tags" identifying the petitioner.

The photos could still be viewed by anyone via "a simple name search." At some point, things got a little testy with the uncle posting, "a hostile tirade against Petitioner online, [and] posting childhood images of Petitioner accompanied by obscene language."

Under Minnesota law, the court addressed the HRO using a standard invasion of privacy analysis. In other words, this case may be persuasive under privacy laws (and common law torts) in other jurisdictions. And, employees generally have some, albeit limited, protection from invasion of privacy (and you thought there wasn't going to be any employment law tie-in!).

In any event, the Court held:
Comments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person’s safety, security, or privacy—and certainly not substantially so.
Seems like a simple case. Of course, employers must be careful about using someone's name or likeness for financial gain without their permission (an invasion of privacy tort called "misappropriation of name or likeness), or presenting them in a false light. But innocuous photos and some harsh commentary? Probably not an invasion of privacy.

The opinion can be found here: Olson v. LaBrie, A11-558 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012). HT: Minnesota Employment Law Report.

Image: Official Facebook logo used in commentary on Facebook.