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       For informational purposes only. Always consult an attorney to obtain competent legal advice.

Privacy Laws

Privacy Rights

In General

  • There are a variety of state and federal laws that protect some aspect of a citizen's right to privacy. Below are only a sampling of privacy laws.

Fourth Amendment:

  • The best-known right to privacy may be a person's Fourth Amendment right against "unreasonable search and seizure" guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (and Rhode Island Constitution).

  • The Fourth Amendment has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to protect a person's "expectation" of privacy. Therefore, since we have a much greater expectation of privacy in our homes than in our vehicles, the courts have granted law enforcement officials greater latitude to search a vehicle.

Digital Data:

  • Rhode Island criminal law prohibits the "unauthorized" access or theft of a person's digital data, including data stored on a PC, email, or recorded data. Violations may be deemed a felony punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years and a fine.

Disorderly Conduct:

  • The definition of this criminal offense includes a "peeping tom" provision for a person who, without consent, "looks for a lascivious purpose through a window, or any other opening into an area in which another would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including, but not limited to, a restroom, locker room, shower, changing room, dressing room, bedroom, or any other such private area..."


  • It is a criminal offense in Rhode Island to engage in a "course of conduct" that "serves no legitimate purpose" and is designed to "seriously alarm, annoy, or bother" another person and place them in fear of serious bodily injury or cause "substantial emotional distress".

Identity Theft:

  • The Rhode Island "Impersonation and Identity Fraud Act" makes it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison to steal or impersonate the identity of another, by use of a false identity card or otherwise, for financial gain or other unlawful purpose.

  • However, specifically exempt from the Act are persons under the age of 21 who possess a false identity in order to purchase alcoholic beverages.   



State & City Maintained Personal Information:

  • As of June 26, 2016, the Rhode Island Identity Theft Protection Act of 2015 requires the State of Rhode Island and every city, town or governmental agency to destroy or delete any personal information of residents that it no longer needs and to safeguard any such data by maintaining "reasonable security procedures".

  • "Personal Information" includes Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, health care information, account numbers, email addresses and passwords.

  • However, in spite of the strong wording of the Act, the fine for violations is limited to $100 per record for "reckless" violations and a maximum of $200 per record for "intentional" violations.  

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