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Privacy Cellphones Communications Handhelds United States

US Court: 'Pocket-Dialed' Calls Are Not Private 179

itwbennett writes: In a case of a pocket-dialed call, a conscientious secretary, and sensitive personnel issues, a federal appeals court in Ohio has ruled pocket-dialers shouldn't have any expectation of privacy. 'Under the plain-view doctrine, if a homeowner neglects to cover a window with drapes, he would lose his reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to a viewer looking into the window from outside of his property,' the court said. The same applies to pocket-dialed calls, according to the court. If a person doesn't take reasonable steps to keep their call private, their communications are not protected by the Wiretap Act.
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US Court: 'Pocket-Dialed' Calls Are Not Private

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  • Sorry, I must have missed that issue. What's "pocket dialed"?

    • I've found this [wikipedia.org] enlightening on the subject.
      • Thank you. And the most interesting part of that Wikipedia article is this bit about the lovely state of Nevada:

        Investigator Joseph Morgan, a law enforcement officer with the Nevada Taxicab Authority which regulates the taxicabs in Clark County, Nevada is being prosecuted by the Nevada Attorney General's Office for leaking the contents of a pocket dial. Nevada Taxicab Authority Chief Investigator Ruben V. Aquino, Jr. pocket dialed Morgan. Aquino was then heard inappropriately discussing information relatin

        • by sribe ( 304414 )

          And the most interesting part of that Wikipedia article is this bit about the lovely state of Nevada...

          Ah yes, Nevada. Where the law states that a call can be recorded with consent of any party, and the state Supreme Court ruled that "any" means "all" ;-)

    • A.K.A. Butt dialing. More common with non-smart, non-flip phones, where buttons are accidentally pressed to dial a contact while the phone is stored away in a pocket.

      • I assume that if you butt-dial from a front pocket, it's pocket-dialing.

        • That depends on the size of the butt and its shape change potential during sitting.

        • by starless ( 60879 )

          I assume that if you butt-dial from a front pocket, it's pocket-dialing.

          Or it could be somebody else's butt doing the dialing...

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 23, 2015 @10:24AM (#50168237)

          ah so a genuine booty call?

      • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

        "Siri Dialed" or "Google Dialed" is just as common nowadays. IE, for whateevr reason your phone Media volume is down low and meanwhile Google has decided that you asked it to call someone while your phone is in your pocket - in various situations this doesn't require any button presses at all. Happened to me.

      • A.K.A. Butt dialing. More common with non-smart, non-flip phones, where buttons are accidentally pressed to dial a contact while the phone is stored away in a pocket.

        Correct. Smart phones tend to butt-email or butt-tweet instead.

        • Smart smart phones have a lock screen set.

          • Smart smart phones have a lock screen set.

            Sure, but it assumes the user either locked the phone before pocketing it, and/or the timer locked the screen before the dial/tweet/email happened.

            • I have this unconscious habit of hitting the power button before putting the phone in my pocket. I never even remember that I've done it or that it's required in order to lock the phone quickly.

              • I have this unconscious habit of hitting the power button before putting the phone in my pocket. I never even remember that I've done it or that it's required in order to lock the phone quickly.

                The problem is then if the phone has locked on its own before you press the power button yourself, then you just started the unlocking process, which in some cases is just dragging something on the screen which happens when you insert the phone into your pocket, and then you have fully unlocked phone in your pocket, ready for pocket dialing and other shenanigans.

                • Mine truly locks for that reason. And also because I have a VPN at home that I use occasionally, and for some reason Android will store everything under the sun except for VPN credentials without requiring a lock code.

    • How can you not know this. It used to be a major problem when phones had physical buttons that were easy to accidentally press. I always felt kind of sorry for my friend who's name starts with a "B". I had to add a bunch of "AAA" entries on my old fip-phone to prevent this.

      Touch screen phones with unlock are much less susceptible, between unlock patterns and that a certain sequence of taps would need to be used in order to dial.

    • "Pocket dialing" is when the NSA causes your phone to remotely and silently dial-in to their recording number so they can eavesdrop on everything you're saying. The courts just affirmed that this was legal, which is kind of pointless since the NSA has been repeatedly shown to be above the law anyway.

  • These calls had a very apt descriptive term. Now they are calling pocket dialed calls? Is pocket the new euphemism for butt?
    • Are all your pockets in the back? Or are you too unimaginative to realize that not all pockets are over your butt?

      In which case I'd guess your familiarity with pants is very limited.

      It could be "junk" dialed.

      • Plus, seriously, who is idiotic enough to keep their phone in their rear pants pockets anyway? Some of us sit down once in a while...

        • by geeper ( 883542 )
          Every teenage girl in the U.S. it seems like.
        • I do most of the time when standing or walking, mostly because it's uncomfortable in the front pocket and difficult to get out. I have a Nexus 6, so it's a bigger phone, and no I don't wear skinny jeans. That being said, I take my phone out whenever I sit down. It's second nature at this point, I don't have to even think about it. So no worries about sitting on it and bending it.

          • by muridae ( 966931 )

            Wallet in one back pocket, phone in the other. They go in when I stand up, and move to a front pocket or the car door/dash/whatever when I sit. Or get tossed in my purse if I'm sitting down at a restaurant/movies/something-else. I don't know why that's a difficult concept, I grew up around men who always carried a wallet in their back pocket but with sciatica in the family hated sitting on them; the phone is no different.

      • Op has a front-butt. (google search that term at your own peril)

    • I believe the term "pocket dial" precedes "butt dial." I recall hearing the term pocket dial back in '99 when I got my first "candy bar" phone. That was in the days before everyone slipped their slim smart phone into their back pocket and it became "butt dial."
    • To me it sounds like an euphemism for "parallel construction".

      Did you know 911 was the most commonly butt-dialed number?

    • These calls had a very apt descriptive term. Now they are calling pocket dialed calls? Is pocket the new euphemism for butt?

      Well, probably because butt dialed doesn't make much sense when 11% [phandroid.com] of people who keep their phone in their pocket keep it in one of their back pockets. Then there are all the people who wear their phone on a holster.

  • by newsdee ( 629448 ) on Thursday July 23, 2015 @09:32AM (#50167769) Homepage Journal

    This is really a problem when your butt has a bigger social life than yours.

  • What happened to the woman CEO of the airport? Looks like this guy was conspiring to replace her and discriminate against her because she was a woman. What happened to that more interesting thread?
    • If the CEO is good at doing what CEOs do, she'll have him removed ASAP.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Where did you read that he was discriminating against her? The secretary said that she *thought* he might try to discriminate against her boss, which is the reason she gave for listening to the entire 91 minute call (it's more likely she was just being nosey). It didn't say that he had actually said anything discriminatory. He was also with his wife, so I think she might have said something if he all of a sudden said "fuck all bitches, i'm firing that ho".

      In any case, I actually agree with the law on this o

      • If you call someone, even inadvertently, you have no expectation of privacy.

        Then if you leave your doors unlocked, you have no expectation of ownership

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      She's still there. The chairman, vice chair, and another board member [bizjournals.com] resigned over this as well as an investigation into the board's spending of taxpayer money, including the trip to Italy where the butt dialing occurred.

  • Likewise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Thursday July 23, 2015 @09:41AM (#50167863)

    Here's a notice for people who talk on their phones like it were a slice of pizza, unfortunately for all of us your conversation isn't private.

  • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Thursday July 23, 2015 @09:46AM (#50167907)
    How can I not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for something that it literally happening in my pants?
    • Technically, while it, er, originated in your pants ... it actually 'happened' on the telephone network.

      Unless you call the phone in your other pocket, and then you can assume that all parties will keep it private.

      But pocket dialing the wife while schtupping the mistress? Not so private.

    • by starless ( 60879 )

      How can I not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for something that it literally happening in my pants?

      The problem is that you didn't keep it in your pants.
      (Where "it" = the call.)

    • by Shortguy881 ( 2883333 ) on Thursday July 23, 2015 @10:11AM (#50168103)
      This is a non-issue. The summary isn't very good. The premise is if you butt dial someone, the conversation now includes the person on the other end.

      An example, you are cheating on your wife. You butt dial her while talking about cheating on her with a friend. She listens in and gets upset with you. You can't sue your wife for recording the conversation and using it in divorce court.
      • Yeah, actually reading TFA, it seems to be very different than what I've come to expect regarding a ruling about "reasonable expectation of privacy"
        • Every once in a while, a court rules in a way that seems like an attack on privacy, but in fact is just reiterating current standards of (non) privacy in certain weird conditions, because some plaintiff or defendant is trying to wildly re-construe privacy to include some bizarre condition they got caught up in.

          If you butt-dial someone, the call is not private to the exclusion of the recipient the same way that if you accidentally email a sensitive document to the wrong person and then try to sue them for po

      • "No fault" divorce laws would fix that problem, under such laws the content of the call would be considered irrelevant.
    • Well, if it leaves a spot, people are going to notice.

  • In some places you need permission of both parties to record a conversation. If a similar ruling was made in say Washington, then someone could "accidentally" call their friend and they could listen into a conversation that was intended to be private. Proving that the dialing was not an accident could be difficult.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was on a sales incentive trip in maui w/my wife who at time worked for a well-known goliath software company (the one w/the playboy billionaire founder as opposed to w/monopolist-turned-philanthropist one). I'd used her phone earlier in day to call my (then) boss about something & later that evening a bunch of us piled in a rental car for a dinner that involved imbibing a beverage or two (dozen). next week I get home, go back to work & he (boss) had the widest grin I'd ever seen, pulled me into

  • by GrooveNeedle ( 3847301 ) on Thursday July 23, 2015 @09:56AM (#50168001)

    This is not about a private call. The call remained private the whole time. Huff called Spaw directly. He didn't know he called her, but he did. No one had wire tapped the call (at least no one more than usual *cough* NSA *cough*). That call remained private until Spaw divulged information obtained from the call. I think she did not have a legal responsibility to keep the information private, so she can share it at will.

    What should be discussed here is whether the CONVERSATION overheard in the background should be private, since Spaw understood she was hearing privileged information during an accidental call. Personally, I think it shouldn't be. If you're so clueless that you butt-dial me and I hear something you're saying (whether I share that info or not), that's your problem, not mine.

    Again, the call remained private between the caller and receiver, what's really being argued is if the background conversation overheard during the call should be private. My answer: NO.

    • That was a major point toward the end of the linked article. The court said:

      “The district court’s holding would logically result in the loss of a reasonable expectation of privacy in face-to-face conversations where one party is aware that a participant in the conversation may have a modern cellphone.”

      Basically, if you are having a "private" conversation, and know that someone present may have a cell phone, then this precedent may mean you no longer have an expectation of privacy for th

      • I'm not sure ownership of a modern cellphone is a high enough bar. If that were true, then a majority of people (the ones I know anyways) would have zero expectation of privacy at all times, which would allow all kinds of snooping (whether by private persons or government agents) at all times. I do not want to live in that world.

        I do think that the moment a butt-dial occurs, the third party (call receiver) is now privy to the information discussed during the still private conversation (that they were invi

      • From reading the article the problem was that they guy knew the phone pocket-dialed and didn't take steps to stop it. They also said that their reasoning for including the husband in the decision didn't include the wife because there was no way for her to know about the phone in his pocket and it's behaviour.

        So if you have someone who has a phone that pocket-dials easily and doesn't take steps to stop it then, at least in this court's jurisdiction, your conversations could be recorded legally without your

    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      Thanks for the summary. This sounds similar to an incident where I received email from a small bank that shares my own last name. Apparently, one of the bank officers thought he was sending it to one of the owners. So, I received confidential information, which I did not divulge, and informed them of their mistake. That said, could I have shared that information with whomever I pleased? It seems like a the same philosophy.

    • According to the article she recorded 4 minutes of the 91 minute call and that was likely the basis for the wiretapping motion.

  • Close the drapes. Because it's perfectly legal for that pervert across the street to use binoculars. He just can't trespass. But cops can, correct? wtf I can't keep up with all this.

    If I smoke weed (or don't & they just claim they smell it) cops can break down my door.

    If they view what they think might be something illegal though your windows, they can break down my door.

    If someone on my open wifi does something that might be considered illegal, they can break down my door.

    So basically I can j

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Has it really ever been different?

      When everyone in town had 2 rifles and a handgun, the cops knocked at the door, explained what they saw, and asked if you'd mind showing them what really was going on to clear up any confusion.

      Now that many citizens are unarmed, the police call in riot-gear-equipped special squads to break down the door and shoot your dog.

      • Now that many citizens are unarmed, the police call in riot-gear-equipped special squads to break down the door and shoot your dog.

        Then why do they always justify the riot gear and shooting your dog by saying you might be armed and it's "for everyone's safety"?

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          Because they can get away with it. And it works.

          If they really thought you might shoot them if they scared you, they'd try not to scare you.

  • Is anything protected by the Wiretap Act anymore?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is anything protected by the Wiretap Act anymore?

      Yes, the privacy of the police.

  • Misleading (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Once again, the headline and summary are misleading. The judgement is not that pocket-dialed calls have no expectation of privacy at all, but rather that if you pocket-dial someone who goes on to overhear you talking talking as a result of the call then it's your fault and not that of the person you called, and thus you have no cause to accuse the person you called of "wiretapping". This is not a case of a judge declaring actual wiretapping to be OK.

    Here's the very first paragraph of the fine article:

    A federal appeals court in Ohio has ruled that a person who accidentally “pocket dials” someone shouldn’t expect any overheard conversation to be considered private.

    • Once again, the headline and summary are misleading. The judgement is not that pocket-dialed calls have no expectation of privacy at all, but rather that if you pocket-dial someone who goes on to overhear you talking talking as a result of the call then it's your fault and not that of the person you called, and thus you have no cause to accuse the person you called of "wiretapping". This is not a case of a judge declaring actual wiretapping to be OK.

      I don't see how it could be the fault of the person you called. But I don't see how it is your own fault either. You did not command the phone to call anyone, it just did it by itself because the UI is too dumb to understand the difference between pressing a button to make a call and 100 pounds of fat pressing down on the entire face of the phone.

      • I believe the legal principle here is that it's your phone, and if you bought one with a dumb UI that's your problem. In general, you're responsible for your actions, whether they have the intended effect or not.

  • What happens if someone hacks into your home automation system, remotely opens the curtains and takes a picture of the inside of your house?
  • "If a thief walks in your unlocked door, don't call us." Ah, but wait, it's not about the act, is it?, It's a matter of who is doing it.

    • No, they're saying if you mail your manuscript to random parties, don't be surprised when your script gets ripped off.

  • I wonder if this just set a new legal precedent that can be used by the defense the next time a security researcher finds her/him-self on the wrong side of a legal team for exploring a service that was open to the web. As according to this ruling if you leave it open, it's your fault if someone else gets access to it. So, basic example, you should have "no expectation of privacy" if you leave directory browsing turned on as per the judges reasoning/analogy, it's the exact same thing as leaving your blinds o
    • I wonder if this just set a new legal precedent that can be used by the defense the next time a security researcher finds her/him-self on the wrong side of a legal team for exploring a service that was open to the web. As according to this ruling if you leave it open, it's your fault if someone else gets access to it. So, basic example, you should have "no expectation of privacy" if you leave directory browsing turned on as per the judges reasoning/analogy, it's the exact same thing as leaving your blinds open and a passer by gets a peek.

      Absolutely misunderstanding what the good judge said. If your server sends information to a hacker without the hacker asking for it, you would have a point. But that doesn't happen (or not very often).

  • If unsecured communication is an invitation to eavesdrop, then an unlocked door is an invitation to steal, and should be just as legal.

    Maybe the next guy should use copyright law to prohibit any retransmission of the signal.

    • What do you mean by "unsecured communication"? If you mean one that could easily be tapped, you've got the same reasonable expectation of privacy you always did, and this court decision does nothing to change that. What it means is that, if you call me, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy from me for anything you say on the call, and it doesn't matter whether you called me intentionally or not. Similarly, if you mis-address an envelope, and accidentally send me something you don't want made pu

  • .... when the issue of openly recording people who are in a public place is still legally questionable?
  • "If a person doesn't take reasonable steps to keep their call private, their communications are not protected by the Wiretap Act." Are the calls not all recorded by default? There's already no privacy if that's the case. But then, the next step would be - how do they know that the call was pocket-dialed without listening to it first?
  • Streamed live from his butt to her house....

  • Who is to say if a call was really pocket-dialed, or the call was triggered by a third party on a hacked phone....

  • I have never had my phone make an unintentional call as a result of putting the phone in my pocket or sitting on it. Occasionally my phone (Note 3) will call someone with absolutely no input from me when I am viewing their text message history. I do not have "OK Google" or Voicedialing enabled. It usually happens when I put the phone down on a table or just changing the orientation of the phone. I will see the phone flash and then all of a sudden it is dialing whoever's text message history I was viewing. V
    • by cHiphead ( 17854 )

      I have a Note 3 and on both stock and custom roms have had this same issue.

      Intent is of utmost importance with the law, I'd argue that this judge made a serious error in ruling, likely related to confusion with technical terms overshadowing common sense and precedent.

    • You bought the phone, guy, so legally it's your responsibility. If something you own does something, you can't normally evade responsibility by showing that you bought a crappy product.

  • "if a homeowner neglects to cover a window with drapes, he would lose his reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to a viewer looking into the window from outside of his property,"

    That's OK.

    A viewer looking into my window from outside my property loses his reasonable expectation of eyesight while I am conducting laser experiments.

  • Butt dialing happens, by definition, by mistake and without your knowledge. When you close your drapes, they don't randomly open by mistake and without your knowledge. This argument by the court is asinine, and the comparison completely specious.

Long computations which yield zero are probably all for naught.

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