How Much Is Privacy Worth? In This Case, $15,000

Is privacy dead? Not really, of course, but it is under attack. One of the biggest weapons against privacy is the increasing use of miniature cameras.

Cameras are all around us: in public closed circuit feeds, in webcams and of course in just about every cel phone sold today. Some argue that the pervasiveness of cameras means our expectation of privacy should be limited. Perhaps, but a case from Ontario in late 2016 shows the rights are still alive.

The case was Patel v Seth, 2016 ONSC 6964. It arose from the breakdown of a marriage and one of the situations involved a husband secretly placing a video camera in the bedroom and bathroom of the home without informing his wife. While there is little analysis of liability, Justice Fragomeni of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered the defendant to pay $15,000 in damages to his estranged spouse. The factors listed for setting damages at this level were:

  1. the nature of the intrusion. It took place in a bedroom and bathroom, places which are very private;
  2. the intrusion takes place within a domestic relationship;
  3. although the wife was embarrassed and shocked at the intrusion no medical information was filed to support and establish an evidentiary basis to find any significant effect on her health or welfare;
  4. the conduct of the husband in lying about the intrusion at his Discovery and even attempting to blame his wife herself for the camera being installed is extremely aggravating and demonstrates a lack of any insight into what he did as being wrong.

The photos recovered and tendered in evidence did not show anything explicit but that was not listed as a factor.

While there is obviously a broad spectrum of fact situations, some more and some less egregious than this one, the case does show privacy rights have value and courts will uphold them. It still leaves unanswered situations where there may be more legitimate interests for hidden cameras (for example, nanny cams to protect children) but at least there are some factors to use when assessing damages.