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64 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 364 (1989)
False Light Invasion of Privacy: The Light that Failed

handle is hein.journals/nylr64 and id is 378 raw text is: FALSE LIGHT INVASION OF PRIVACY:
THE LIGHT THAT FAILED
DIANE LEENHEER ZIMMERMAN*
For Professor Zimmerman, the tort offalse light invasion ofprivacy lacks justification.
After examining false light's evolution and current status, she critiques two theoretical
bases for the tort. The notion of promoting the discovery of truth by withholding pro-
tection for falsehoods fails to consider either the difficulty in establishing what is true-
a difficulty that Professor Zimmerman explores in the contexts of natural science, so-
cial science, and philosophy-or the dangers implicit in government-mediated determi-
nations of truth. The alternative rationale ofpreventing harm to the individual or body
politic from false speech proves antithetical to the first amendment. Even if these theo-
retical objections were met, Professor Zimmerman argues, the constitutional protec-
tions borrowed from defamation law inadequately guard accurate speech from the
chilling effect of the false light tort. Given the conceptual emptiness and the speech-
impairing overtones offalse light invasion of privacy, courts shouldfollow the lead of
North Carolina and Missouri in restricting or rejecting the false light tort.
INTRODUCTION
The phrase a right of privacy as used in law has almost as many
meanings as Hydra had heads. In modem constitutional law, privacy
may refer to freedom from illegal governmental searches as well as to
preservation of individual choice in matters relating to family life or
human sexuality. I The common thread uniting these forms of the consti-
tutional right to privacy is the claim that each citizen has a right of au-
tonomy-a right to decide how to live and to associate with others, free
from all but the most carefully limited impingements by governmental
authority.
For the past century, the common law, too, has identified and at-
* Professor of Law, New York University. A.B., 1963, Beaver College; J.D., 1976, Co-
lumbia University. The author wishes to express her gratitude to colleagues Ralph Brown,
Rochelle Dreyfuss, Harry First, Beatrice Frank, Robert Gorman, R. Kent Greenawalt, David
Richards, and Michael Zimmer for the time they devoted to reviewing this manuscript, and for
their thoughtful comments and criticisms. Thanks are also due to past and present New York
University law students Abby Meiselman, Ilene Reid, Teresa Curtin, and Marina Goland for
their able and enthusiastic research assistance. This research was funded by grants from the
Filomen D'Agostino Greenberg and Max E. Greenberg Faculty Research Fund at New York
University School of Law.
I Protection of privacy is a well-recognized function of the fourth amendment to the
United States Constitution. See, e.g., California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 211 (1986); Katz v.
United States, 389 U.S. 347, 350 (1967). For examples of privacy rights relating to family and
sexuality, see, e.g., Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 152 (1973) (right of privacy protects woman's
right to abortion); Griswold v. Coilnecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 485 (1965) (right of privacy protects
rights of married persons to use contraceptives); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 403 (1923)
(right of privacy covers family decisions regarding education of children).
364

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