Tuesday, December 27, 2016

⚖ Can You Legally Disclose Illegally Intercepted Communications to the Author of the Communication?

CRIMINAL LAW 101 EXAM (You have 1.5 hours)

QUESTION: Is it a violation of the Wiretap Act to disclose your own email to yourself?

(Stop laughing) (Seriously, you are being graded on this)

FACTS: "The action arises from the [PLAINTIFF and DEFENDANT]'s acrimonious divorce. DEFENDANT accused PLAINTIFF of serial infidelity, so in discovery PLAINTIFF asked DEFENDANT for all documents related to that accusation. DEFENDANT complied and produced copies of incriminating emails between PLAINTIFF and several other women..."

CAUSE OF ACTION: "PLAINTIFF alleges that DEFENDANT violated the Wiretap Act by surreptitiously placing an auto-forwarding 'rule' on his email accounts that automatically forwarded the messages on his email client to her. He also claims that DEFENDANT's divorce lawyer violated the Act by 'disclosing' the intercepted emails in response to his discovery request. The district judge dismissed the suit on the pleadings."

On this final exam, we concern ourselves only with the later action regarding disclosing of emails.

RULE: 18 USC s 511(1)(c) prohibits the disclosure of intercepted communications:
[A]ny person who- (c) intentionally discloses, or endeavors 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 through the interception of a wire, oral, or electronic communication in violation of this subsection; . . . shall be punished as provided in subsection (4) or shall be subject to suit as provided in subsection (5).
ANALYSIS: Getting past whether this was in fact an interception, is it disclosure? Couple problems, as the court points out:
  • PLAINTIFF "already knew the contents of the intercepted emails."
  • PLAINTIFF "invited their disclosure by requesting them in discovery in the divorce action" - the court suggests that requesting your own emails in discovery is tantamount to "consent" for disclosure of those communications.
  • Then the Court pontificates, "to 'disclose' something means '[t]o make (something) known or public.'... [DEFENDANT's ATTORNEY] did not publicly disclose PLAINTIFF's emails, and their content was hardly unknown to PLAINTIFF. "
CONCLUSION: "[E]ven if the emails were unlawfully intercepted, [DEFENDANT's ATTORNEY] did not unlawfully disclose their content by producing them in response to PLAINTIFF's discovery request."

Nope, it aint a violation of the Wiretap Act to disclose the contents of a communication to the communicator of that communication.

NOTE: 18 USC 2511(1)(c) specifically states anyone who "intentionally discloses, or endeavors to disclose, to any other person the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication" has violated the Act. Here we have a play with three actors. We have the communicator, the interceptor, and the "other." PLAINTIFF is the communicator. DEFENDANT is the interceptor. For this tragedy to work, there needs to be one more person. There needs to be the "other" (and DEFENDANT's ATTORNEY counts in this play as DEFENDANT and does not count as "other."). Lacking the "other," the tragedy is incomplete and the cause of action fails.

Epstein v. Epstein, Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2016
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