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Yet every fiction writer bases characters on real people.
Memoirists and nonfiction writers identify people by name.
Similarly, public figures can have little expectation of privacy.
A movie star lounging topless on a yacht should not be surprised that a camera with a long lens is pointing her way.
A defamatory statement must contain sufficient information to lead a reasonable person (other than the target) to identify the target.
Typically, the target must be a living person, but companies and organizations have sued for defamation.
In any situation, however, writers should try to get releases from people who will be recognizable in their work.
As you can imagine, judges and juries are not sympathetic when the perpetrator makes a privacy claim.
The disclosure must be more than embarrassing; it must harm a person’s personal and professional reputation.
Typically, these cases involve incest, rape, abuse, or a serious disease or impairment. Even if the information is highly offensive, courts often decide there is no legal liability if the information is of public interest.
Whether the person is a private individual or public figure, you would be liable for damages, including punitive damages.
If the person is dead, you could still get sued in some states and foreign countries.