Intercepting digital communications can lead to prison sentence and civil lawsuits

Before you intercept (“steal”) cable or satellite TV, or plant a recording device in a room (so that once you’re gone you can record what others are saying), know that you could do prison time for that. In other words, intercepting oral and digital communications (even signals) is serious business.

This is true even if the interceptions and/or recordings give you proof that the people you listened to and/or recorded were talking about the crimes they had committed. In other words, you can’t intercept and/or record such things unless you fit into one of the “exceptions.” And before you think an exception applies to you, talk to an attorney who deals in this area.

Just so you know, intercepting and/or recording the words of people is far different from having a security camera installed that the whole world can see (like those you see at banks, etc). Also, intercepting and/or recording the live online chats of others is just as problematic.

Utah and the United States both have “anti-wiretapping” statutes that prohibit people from intercepting live telephone calls, and live digital streams of information. And, not only can a person go to state or federal prison for such behavior, they can also be sued.

The Utah law gives a civil cause of action (right to sue) to a person whose wire, electronic, or oral communication has been intercepted, disclosed, or intentionally used (without their consent, unless a warrant was first legally obtained, etc.). The person suing can get (a) preliminary and other equitable or declaratory relief as is appropriate (in other words, getting a court to force the illegal activity to stop); (b) damages and punitive damages in appropriate cases; and(c) a reasonable attorney’s fee and reasonably incurred litigation costs. Utah Code Ann. § 77-23a-11.

The federal penalties are much harsher. Here is what one court said: “In general, Title III [the wiretap act] prohibits “non-consensual recordings of private conversations, subject to certain specified exceptions, and authorize[s] civil remedies on behalf of those who suffer violations of the statutory provisions.” Glazner v. Glazner, 347 F.3d 1212, 1214 (11th Cir.2003). Under Title III, “a federal civil cause of action arises when a person intentionally intercepts a wire or electronic communication or intentionally discloses the contents of the interception.” Deal v. Spears, 980 F.2d 1153, 1156 (8th Cir.1992); 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a)(e).

Here is the hammer: A successful plaintiff in a civil Title III case may recover actual damages plus any profits made by the violator. Deal, 980 F.2d at 1156. If statutory damages will result in a larger recovery than actual damages, the violator must pay “the greater of $100 a day for each day of violation or $10,000.” 18 U.S.C. § 2520(c)(2)(B). Babb v. Eagleton, 616 F. Supp. 2d 1195, 1199-200 (N.D. Okla. 2007).

So, before you intercept and/or record such things, consult an attorney.

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