Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Paparazzi Work

Paparazzi & Privacy Rights
David Hasselhoff embraces the paparazzi outpouring.
David Hasselhoff embraces the paparazzi outpouring.
Chris Weeks/Getty Images

The laws on the right of privacy vary from country to country. Under U.S. law, the right of privacy is defined by Black's Law Dictionary in the following way:

  • The right to personal autonomy. The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly provide for a right of privacy or for a general right of personal autonomy, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a right of personal autonomy is implied in the "zones of privacy" created by specific constitutional guarantees.
  • The right of a person and the person's property to be free from unwarranted public scrutiny or exposure .

So, if we are to understand that the law upholds our right to be "free from unwarranted public scrutiny or exposure," then it would seem paparazzi aren’t allowed to do what they do. In fact, privacy rights, as established and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, were based on the recognition that journalism and news gathering inherently intrude on people’s personal lives from time to time [source: Nordhaus]. And certainly, paparazzi such as Ron Galella, whose stalking provoked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to seek out a restraining order against him, violate those privacy provisions laid out in the law. And in more recent years, celebrities including Sienna Miller, Hugh Grant and Lily Allen have fought back against the paparazzi system in court to defend their basic human rights to live their lives without excessive intrusion from a mob of camera-wielding strangers.

However, such intrusion often is permissible when it’s in the public interest, or when someone -- i.e. a celebrity -- pursues a profession that thrusts him or her into the limelight as part of the gig. In other words, there’s a loophole in privacy laws when it comes to people legally defined as public figures.