“Pocket Dials” – Senders and Receivers Beware

By now, we all know the phenomenon of the “pocket dial” (also referred to as the “butt dial”). But (no pun intended) we are now more aware of the potential ramifications to both the sender and receiver.

James Huff was on a business trip in Italy. He phoned a subordinate (Carol Spaw) to have her make certain reservations for Huff. After terminating the call, Huff placed the phone in his pocket, unaware that the phone had re-dialed Spaw. Spaw said “Hello” several times into the phone, but got no response. Soon, Spaw realized that Huff and a colleague were discussing business, part of which was the possible replacement of Spaw’s superior. Later, Spaw and a co-worker listened to a conversation between Huff and his wife, part of which involved Huff relating to his wife parts of his conversation with his colleague. Spaw took handwritten notes and recorded pat of the phone call.

Huff and his wife later learned of the open phone call, which lasted approximately 80 minutes. Huff and his wife sued Spaw for violation of the Federal law that prohibits intercepting and disseminating electronic communications. On appeal, the Circuit Court held that Huff had no claim, since he did not avail himself of the easiest and most effective prevention (turning off the phone). By failing to take that simple measure, Huff had no “reasonable expectation of privacy”, something the Federal law requires as a prerequisite to relief. Huff’s wife, however, did have a reasonable expectation of privacy, that was not affected by her husband’s lapse in judgment. Therefore she is permitted to proceed against Spaw.

The lesson here is “beware the butt dial”, and it applies to both the sender and receiver.

Find more information at the Oklahoma Law Website

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