RIGHT TO PRIVACY

Nader v. General Motors Corp., 1970

Attempted Smear

In November 1965, Ralph Nader published a book called Unsafe at Any Speed, which detailed safety problems with the Corvair, a popular General Motors automobile. Concerned that the book might jeopardize Corvair sales, General Motors hired private investigators to find evidence about Mr. Nader’s personal life that might discredit him.

Fighting Back

Mr. Nader filed a tort action against General Motors and claimed that the company’s actions violated his right to privacy. He claimed that the company’s detectives tapped his phone, used electronic devices to listen to his private conversations, made harassing phone calls, questioned his friends about his private life, and hired women to attempt to seduce him

Invasion of Privacy

The court ruled that Mr. Nader could sue General Motors for invasion of privacy based on his claims of wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping. The court decided that General Motors’ attempt to gather information could constitute an invasion of privacy if the information sought was confidential in nature and the means used were unreasonably intrusive.

Illustration of Nader v General Motors case

Turning the tables

General Motors eventually paid Ralph Nader $425,000 to settle the case out of court and issued a public apology to him. Mr. Nader used the money, after deducting his lawyer’s fees and other expenses, to finance projects that included investigating General Motors for safety, pollution, and other consumer concerns.