What is the California Penal Code for invasion of privacy?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Oct 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

man looking through binoculars
PC 647j makes it a crime to violate someone's privacy binoculars to view someone through a hole or other opening

Penal Code 647j PC is the California statute that makes "invasion of privacy" a crime.

This code section defines “invasion of privacy” as any of three distinct, yet related, crimes:

  • Penal Code 647j1 – using a device to look through a hole or opening,
  • Penal Code 647j2 – using a concealed camera to look under or through someone's clothing, or
  • Penal Code 647j3 – using a concealed camera to view a person's body in a private room.

Note that California also has civil causes of action for certain forms of invasion of privacy. For example, a victim can sue under:

  • a "false light" claim when a person or business disseminates false and embarrassing assertions about him (or his business), or
  • a public disclosure of private facts claim when someone publicly makes known private and embarrassing information about the victim.

What is the crime of invasion of privacy under Penal Code 647j PC?

PC 647j makes it a crime to violate someone's privacy in any of three specific ways:

  1. using a device such as a telescope or binoculars to view someone through a hole or other opening (a crime under PC 647j1),
  2. secretly photographing or recording a person's body under or through his or her clothing for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification (a crime under PC 647j2), or
  3. secretly recording or photographing someone in a private room in order to view that person's body or undergarments (a crime under PC 647j3).

Examples of criminal invasion of privacy include:

  • a "peeping Tom" scenario where John watches Sally undress through binoculars.
  • Victor secretly records Jessica change in a fitting room with a mobile device.
  • Matt secretly takes upskirt photographs of females in a shopping mall.

Criminal invasion of privacy is a type of “disorderly conduct” in California. As such, it is a misdemeanor, punishable by:

  • up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

What is civil invasion of privacy in California?

California has civil invasion of privacy laws in addition to the criminal laws set forth in Penal Code 647j.

The main difference between the two lies in this:

  • criminal invasion of privacy charges are brought by the State of California against a defendant for the purpose of imposing a punishment for the commission of a crime.
  • civil laws allow a plaintiff to bring a lawsuit against a person to recover damages for any injuries incurred via the invasion of the plaintiff's privacy.

There are two main civil invasion of privacy causes of action in California. These are:

  1. "false light" claims, and
  2. public disclosure of private fact cases.

What is a California false light claim?

A plaintiff asserts the following in a false light claim:

  1. the defendant made a public disclosure,
  2. the disclosure placed the plaintiff in a false light, and
  3. an average person would consider the false light offensive.

A “false light” is an untrue or misleading portrayal of a person.

The damages a plaintiff may recover in these actions typically include compensation for:

  • loss of reputation, shame and hurt feelings,
  • damage to the plaintiff's trade or occupation, or
  • loss of business income resultingly from the disclosure.

What is a California claim of public disclosure of private fact?

A plaintiff must prove five things to successfully bring a public disclosure of private fact claim. These are:

  1. there is a public disclosure,
  2. that concerns private facts,
  3. the disclosure is one that would offend the average person,
  4. the disclosure was not of legitimate public concern, and
  5. the defendant published private facts with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.

A disclosure that is not of legitimate public concern means that the discourse involves facts that are really nobody else's business.

If a plaintiff is successful in these actions, he may recover damages like those awarded in false light actions. Again, these include compensation for:

  • loss of reputation,
  • damage to the plaintiff's occupation, or
  • loss of business income.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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