Next time you're talking trash, or talking about sensitive business matter, double-check your cell phone—because if you've accidentally butt-dialed someone, it's perfectly legal for that person to record everything you say.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that accidental phone calls aren't private. You might not have intended for the recipient of the call to hear what you were saying, but you still called, and that means the recipient is entitled to listen—and even to record the call, the court said.
A pocket- or butt-dial is comparable to leaving your blinds open, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court said—it's not an invasion of your privacy for someone to look in the open window.
The pocket-dial in question could have come straight out of a sitcom: It happened while two members of the Cincinnati airport's governing board were discussing business matters—including whether to replace the airport's CEO. But one of them had accidentally pocket-dialed the CEO's executive assistant.
She said "hello" into the phone multiple times, trying to get their attention, but once she realized what they were discussing, she grabbed a coworker (for a second set of ears), took extensive notes about the conversation, and even used an iPhone to record part of it. She listened in for roughly 90 minutes, according to the court's ruling.
James Huff, one of the board members, sued. He said the CEO's assistant had illegally intercepted his private conversations. But the 6th Circuit disagreed.
"He is no different from the person who exposes in-home activities by leaving drapes open or a webcam on and therefore has not exhibited an expectation of privacy," the ruling states.
But the court felt differently about Huff's wife, who was also in the room during her husband's pocket-dial and discussed private family matters with him that the CEO's assistant also heard. Because Bertha Huff didn't place the phone call, was in the confines of her hotel room, and had no reason to suspect that her husband's phone was connected, she could have reasonably expected that what she said was private, the court said.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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