Law School Case Brief
Bartnicki v. Vopper - 532 U.S. 514, 121 S. Ct. 1753 (2001)
In the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 100 Stat. 1848, Congress enlarged the coverage of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. Title III applies to the interception of conversations over both cellular and cordless phones. Although a lesser criminal penalty may apply to the interception of such transmissions, the same civil remedies are available whether the communication was "oral," "wire," or "electronic," as defined by 18 U.S.C.S. § 2510.
Petitioners alleged that an unknown person intercepted petitioners' telephone conversation regarding a matter of public concern and that respondent media representatives published the contents of the conversation knowing that the recording had been obtained illegally, in violation of federal and state wiretapping statutes. In petitioners' suit against respondents for damages, the appellate court determined that the statutes were invalid.
Were the federal and state wiretapping statutes valid, in light of the circumstances of the case at hand?
The Court determined that the application of the statutes under the circumstances of the case violated the First Amendment. The Court posited that Petitioners and the Government identified two interests served by the federal and state statutes: the interest in removing an incentive for parties to intercept private conversations, and the interest in minimizing the harm to persons whose conversations have been illegally intercepted. However, the Court determined that the interests could not justify the statutes' restrictions on speech.
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