Privacy Damages: Pshaw!

While many of you were going about your routine business on Wednesday, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Alito, handed down an important ruling concerning what you will be able to recover in the case that the United States government decides to make any of that business public.

Essentially, if the government improperly leaks your private information, whether by mistake, or in some misguided effort to embarrass or intimidate you, the measure of damages recoverable in court will be limited to your out-of-pocket expenses. In the past–since the post-Watergate era–plaintiffs were able to recover damages for emotional distress. So, if you spend $10 to take a cab to your psychiatrists office, the $10 is recoverable, but your actual damages are not. This will not only make it less likely that plaintiffs will bring privacy cases, but more importantly it removes any impediment the government may have had not to act in nefarious ways with regard to your private information.