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No Expectation of Privacy on Pocket-Dialed Calls

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a person has no expectation of privacy in an inadvertent “pocket-dial” call. The decision was reported on July 21, 2015. In the case, the Plaintiff, a chairman of an airport board, had inadvertently placed a pocket-dialed call to the executive assistant of the airport CEO. The pocket-dialed call lasted some 91 minutes, and during that call, the Plaintiff was overheard discussing his plan for possibly discriminating against the airport CEO. The executive assistant recorded parts of the 91 minute call and made handwritten notes about what she overheard. She then shared these findings with the airport board and CEO. The Plaintiff sued the executive assistant under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and alleged that she had conducted electronic eavesdropping.

The appeals court held that a person who operates a device capable of exposing conversations to third parties has no reasonable expectation of privacy when he or she fails to take precautions that would prevent such an exposure. The court reasoned that pocket-dialed calls could be prevented by locking the phone, setting a passcode, or using an app that prevents pocket-dialed calls.

The Bottom Line

Make sure to lock your cell phone, set up a passcode, or download an app that will prevent inadvertent pocket-dialed calls. Otherwise, you could be waiving your right to claim that anything overheard on a pocket-dialed call was private.

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