Federal Wiretap Law: When Can You Sue for Damages?

 
“Illegal Wiretapping” is the federal crime of wiretapping or using a machine to capture the communications of others without court approval, unless one of the parties has given their prior consent. One is a victim of illegal wiretapping when his or her communications have been heard or recorded by others without court approval and without the consent of either party to the conversation.

Under Section (1)(a) of the federal wiretap statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2511, criminalizes intentionally intercepting, endeavoring to intercept, or procuring any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication.

Section (1)(b) criminalizes intentionally using, endeavoring to use, or procuring any other person to use or endeavor to use any electronic, mechanical, or other device to intercept any oral communication under certain circumstances.

Section (1)(c) criminalizes intentionally disclosing, or endeavoring to disclose, to any other person the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained illegally.

Section (1)(d) criminalizes intentionally using, or endeavoring to use, the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained illegally.
Section (1)(e) criminalizes intentionally disclosing, or endeavoring to disclose, to any other person information collected in pursuit of a criminal investigation and with intent to interfere with said communication.

Section (4)(a) provides that violations under Section (1) are punishable by fines, imprisonment of a maximum of five years, or both.

Section (4)(b) exempts unencrypted satellite transmissions transmitted for public broadcast, as long as the conduct is not for the purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain.

Section (5) provides that persons committing violations consisting of either private viewing of unencrypted private satellite video communications or authorized unencrypted radio frequencies that are not for tortious, illegal, direct or indirect commercial advantage, or private commercial gain purposes shall be subject to suit by the Federal Government. The Federal Government may be entitled to appropriate injunctive relief or a mandatory $500 civil fine depending on the circumstances of the offense. The court can use any authorized means to enforce an injunction, and will impose a minimum fine of $500 for each violation of the injunction.

Section (2) contains several enumerated exemptions under the federal wiretap statute. Two important exemptions are those for service providers and law enforcement.

Section (3) controls when a service provider may divulge communications to third parties.

18 U.S.C. § 2520(a) states that a cause of action exists for “any person whose wire, oral, or electronic communication is intercepted, disclosed, or intentionally used in violation of” the federal wiretap statute. 18 U.S.C. § 2520(b) provides that plaintiffs to a civil suit under the federal wiretap statute may recover appropriate preliminary and other equitable or declaratory relief, appropriate statutory damages under § 2520(c), actual and punitive damages, and reasonable attorney’s fees and other litigation costs.18 U.S.C. §2520(c) delineates the computation of damages for a civil suit over a violation of the federal wiretap act.

Privacy attorneys can help victims of illegal wiretapping by helping them navigate the federal Wiretap Act, gathering evidence to prove all elements of a cause of action under the statute, and by giving them a strong voice to enforce their claim under a federal statute. Privacy attorneys can use their expertise to help shape interpretations of the statute in a positive way for plaintiffs, and to get plaintiffs the amount of damages they deserve.

By Katelynn Merkin, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2014. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Privacy, Wiretap and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.