Privacy Law

Leaked emails that led to exposure of Petraeus affair violated socialite's privacy, suit claims

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Tampa socialite Jill Kelley and her husband, Scott, have filed a lawsuit claiming the government violated their privacy by improperly disclosing emails that led to an FBI investigation and exposure of former Gen. David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer.

Kelley had complained to the FBI about harassing emails from an anonymous person, leading to an FBI investigation and discovery that the emailer— allegedly Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell, the suit says—was having an affair with then CIA Director Petraeus. (Broadwell was never charged in the email probe.) The suit says government officials disclosed personal emails and leaked false and damaging information about the Kelleys.

The suit (PDF) filed on Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C., names as defendants the FBI, the Department of Defense and several government officials, report USA Today, the Tampa Tribune, the Huffington Post and Reuters.

The complaint claims the FBI falsely implied that Kelley was having an affair with the FBI agent she contacted about the threatening emails. By disclosing the emails, “government officials served Mrs. Kelley up on a platter to be devoured in a frenzy of salacious speculation regarding the nature of her relationship” with Petraeus, the suit says. Kelley has denied any romantic involvement with Petraeus and with another general with whom she had exchanged emails, George Allen.

The suit alleges defamation and violations of common law privacy rights, the Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It seeks unspecified damages and an apology.

“If defendants can wreak such emotional, reputational and financial havoc on a couple as educated, intelligent, successful and public-spirited as the Kelleys, they could certainly do so to anyone,” the suit says.

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