Can a business owner post your full name and your photograph, with an amount of money they say you owe them, on the wall of their business? Does it violate any right to privacy?

Assume for the sake of argument that, unlike in this question, the statement is true.

  • 4
    It depends on the jurisdiction. Do you have a particular jurisdiction in mind? It may also depend on whether the debt is in fact owed or whether the owner reasonably believed that the debt was owed. Is that the case?
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 16:17
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    Does this answer your question? Can you post a picture in your business to embarrass or defame a customer?
    – user35069
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 18:41
  • @rock ape While this is related to the linked question it is significantly different. In that question it was specifically stated that the statement was false because the debt had been paid. That focused attention on defamation law. Here there is no statement about whether the alleged debt ever existed or was paid, and the request is for answers under privacy law. This should not be closed as a duplicate. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 19:09
  • I don't understand that last sentence? the question is linked to the previous question. the answers seemed to go both way's .the story is still the same .. i read somewhere that a business was not allowed to use intimidation or public shame to retrieve a debt because it was a violation of some right to privacy law?? I was looking for a more decisive law that i can say she's violating.. i just want to site her with a law she cant possibly argue with so she has to take it down. I live in a small town and it puts question in peoples mind concerning my integrity.
    – puzzled
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 5:59
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    @puzzled at least in US law, to the best of my knowledge, there is no general rule that "a business [is] not allowed to use intimidation or public shame to retrieve a debt". In some cases such tactics might violate a right to privacy in the US, depending on additional facts, but in most they will not. Even for particular facts, the result varies from one state to another. In no case is this criminal, and one would have to file suit to force such a thing to stop. Commented May 2, 2021 at 13:37

2 Answers 2


Posting such a pic and statement may give grounds for a lawsuit, but probably not


That is going to depend very much on the the jurisdiction, and on the specific facts. If the statement that the pictured person owes a debt is false, this may be a case of defamation, but that was explored thoroughly in Can you post a picture in your business to embarrass or defame a customer? and its answers.

See FindLaw's page "What Is Invasion of Privacy?" for an overview of the classic privacy torts. See also this page quoting the Restatement (2nd) of Torts, § 652 See further the Wikipedia article "Privacy laws of the United States" which gives a history of the four torts.

Note that not all US states recognize all, or indeed any, of the privacy torts. Nor do all non-US jurisdictions. In some places these torts have been recognized, or blocked, by legislation, in others by court decision. And in the US they are limited by the federal First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

Right of Publicity,aka Appropriation

There is, in general, no right to privacy in one's physical appearance under any of the standard privacy torts, except that if one's likeness is being used to advertise something, or imply sponsorship or approval of a commercial product, many jurisdictions protect a right of publicity (sometimes called the tort of Appropriation of Name or Likeness). But here it does not appear that the image is being used to advertise or promote or sponsor anything, so that would not apply.

Intrusion upon Solitude and Seclusion

The tort of Intrusion upon Solitude and Seclusion would only apply if the picture were taken on someone's private premises or somewhere else there the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Otherwise it would not apply, there is no general right to privacy for a picture taken in public.

Private Facts

The tort of Public Disclosure of Private Facts could possibly apply if the fact of the unpaid debt had been carefully kept secret, and if its disclosure would be highly offensie to a reasonable person. But nothing that is a matter of public record can be the subject of such a suit anywhere in the US, because under Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975) publication of facts derived from public records is protected under the first and fourteenth amendments, even against a specific state law granting protection. This will obviously not apply outside the US.

False Light

If the statement of the debt were true, but in some significant way misleading, the tort of False Light might apply. This is described by the Restatement of Torts (2nd) § 652E as:

One who gives publicity to a matter concerning another before the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion of privacy, if (a) the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (b) the actor had knowledge of or acted in a reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the other would be placed.

Note that the standard of (b) above is the same as the "Actual Malice" standard for defamation cases where the plaintiff is a public figure. False light cases are in many ways similer to defamation cases, and some jurisdictions have treated themn as identical tro defamation, while otrhrs do not recognize them at all. Nothing in the facts stated in the question would imply a false light claim, but more context might possibly support such a claim,.


Nothing in the question clearly indicates that any privacy-based tort would apply, but the facts are stated it a very brief way in the question. Further context and detail might clarify the answer one way or the other.

This answer is largely based on law, althoguh some of it will apply elsewhere.

  • Of course, if the debt is disputed then saying the person has a debt is not true until the dispute is resolved (in court or otherwise) - saying there is a debt is therefore defamation.
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 21:30
  • @Dale I would disagree. The statement is true or false even if it has not been proved so in a court. It is not defamation (in the US) unless the subject can produce evidence that it is false. If there is no evidence either way a US court will not treat it as defamation. In some other countries such a statement may be presumed to be false if a defamation suit is brought. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 21:35
  • in all countries the statement “you owe me money” is presumed to be false - the onus is on the debtor to prove the debt. It’s the civil equivalent of innocent until proven guilty.
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 21:40
  • @Dale In the context of an action to collect the debt that is true. In the context of a defamation action it is not, in the US there must be actual evidence of falsity and no presumption of falsity is sufficient. See the "Proof of Falsity" section in this answer But in any case the statement is in fact true or false, whatever court proceedings may have occurred or not occurred. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 21:45
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    @David Schwartz Statements can be made for purposes of court proceedings which would,otherwise be defamatory, court is often an exception. Otherwise anyone acquitted of crime could sue the prosecutor for defamation, for having falsely asserted that the accused has committed a crime. Commented May 7, 2021 at 17:46

In the EU this would be already illegal without the debt.

The lack of consent is implied in the question, and no other GDPR exception ground applies.

  • Posting a physical printed statement about a person, using that person's name, is not "processing data" about that person under the GDPR. And even if such information were displayed on a web site (where it would seem to be processing data) It is at least arguably within the poster's legitimate interest to truthfully describe debts owed to the poster. Can you cite a source to the contrary? Commented May 3, 2021 at 16:21

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