Eavesdropping on cordless phones

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John Lindback

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Dec 11, 1993, 2:14:51 AM12/11/93
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I teach a journalism class. One of my students is working on a story about
how easy it is for individuals with police scanners and ham radios to
eavesdrop on conversations involving cordless phones. I'm told it's
perfectly legal to listen in but it's illegal to record such a
conversation. Does anybody know if this is correct?

Chris Hedges

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Dec 11, 1993, 12:56:15 PM12/11/93
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Cordless phones use the same frequencies as baby monitors and walkie talkies
(49 MHz - 50 MHz). This is probably the reason why it is not illegal to
monitor the ten channels cordless phones use on that range of frequencies.

Also, it is not illegal to monitor other frequencies, i.e. police, fire,
ambulance, etc. It is illegal to monitor cellular telephone calls, however.

My Bell South Cordless phone has a label on the top of the phone that states:
"Privacy of communications may not be ensured when using this phone."

If one is worried about neighbors, et al. listening in to their cordless
conversations, there are new cordless telephones that use the 900 MHz frequency
range and include scramblers.

Chris


--

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Christopher Hedges, 1L -- CCH...@exodus.valpo.edu -- Valparaiso Univ. Law Sch.
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* * * All Standard Disclaimers Apply * * *

Daniel M. Zacek

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Dec 12, 1993, 8:07:51 PM12/12/93
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>> I teach a journalism class. One of my students is working on a story about
>> how easy it is for individuals with police scanners and ham radios to
>> eavesdrop on conversations involving cordless phones. I'm told it's
>> perfectly legal to listen in but it's illegal to record such a
>> conversation. Does anybody know if this is correct?
>>

>Cordless phones use the same frequencies as baby monitors and walkie talkies
>(49 MHz - 50 MHz). This is probably the reason why it is not illegal to
>monitor the ten channels cordless phones use on that range of frequencies.

I do not believe this is correct. I think that regardless of the frequency
range involved, it is illegal to intercept telephone conversations of any
kind. Possible, yes, and quite easily for that matter, but still illegal.
If your student is really interested, a call to the local FCC office should
provide a definitive answer, as opposed to our hearsay. :)

--
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! Daniel Zacek ! Philosopher - !
! za...@spot.Colorado.edu ! Will think for food !
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Bruce Hayden

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Dec 12, 1993, 8:08:10 PM12/12/93
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jn...@acad1.alaska.edu (John Lindback) writes:

In Colorado here, as I assume elsewhere, we just had an ethics
opinion that stated that attorneys have an ethical duty to
inform their clients of the risks to loss of confidentiality
should the client be using a cellular or cordless phone.

Bruce E. Hayden 1720 South Bellaire Street
bha...@csn.org 1100 Colorado Tower Bldg.
(303) 758-8400 Denver, Colorado 80222

sohl,william h

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Dec 12, 1993, 8:09:34 PM12/12/93
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That's generally the case. The ONLY federal law that prohibits listening
to any "radio" type telephone communication is the ECPA which prohibits
listening to CELLULAR calls (obviously too, if you can't listen, you
can't record either.)

Now, your actual question asks about CORDLESS phones which are NOT cellular
phones. Just to be sure we are talking about the same thing, a CORDLESS
phone is the type of phone that you buy as a "wireless" extension unit
that is used with a regular phone line...generally at home. The
"cordless" range of some units is upwards of 700+ feet. Most cordless
phones operate on a paired set of frequencies around 49MHz.

Is listeneing to cordless illegal? Not according to any federal
statutes, BUT some states (e.g. I believe California) have state
statutes which ban listening to cordless phones. Is it illegal
to record a cordless phone conversation? Probably not in most states,
but it may come down to the specifics of the situation. There have
certainly been tape recordings of drug deals, etc that HAVE been
used in court cases, so we know that at least some locations it is
OK. In fact, the police in most states do NOT need a court order
to "eavesdrop" on a suspect by virtue of "scanning" the subject's
cordless phone conversations.

How easy is it to eavesdrop on cordless units? Well sice most all
cordless phones use basic FM transmission and do nothing to
encrypt the transmission, it is thus trivially simple to go
snooping the 49MHz range for cordless conversations. Litterally
EVERY scanner ever made includes the 49MHz band. As to ham
radio equipment being able to receive cordless, in reality, most
ham equipment does not cover the 49MHz range. However, the 49
MHz range is immediately next to a ham band (50MHz to 54MHz) so
there is some ham gear that does, because of the "extended
receive capability", include the 49MHz cordless range. As a side
comment, the 49MHz range also includes most of the "baby monitors"
that one can buy.

Bottom line (IMHO) is that anyone that uses a cordless phone (and
yes I have one too) should treat EVERY call they use that phone
for as if someone is listening. NEVER discuss person proprietery
information using a cordless phone (e.g. credit card numbers,
or anything else you wouldn't want to have end up becoming
public info.)

Hope this basic answer is what you were looking for.

Standard Disclaimer- Any opinions, etc. are mine and NOT my employer's.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Bill Sohl (K2UNK) BELLCORE (Bell Communications Research, Inc.)
Morristown, NJ email via UUCP bcr!cc!whs70
201-829-2879 Weekdays email via Internet wh...@cc.bellcore.com


Mark Eckenwiler

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Dec 12, 1993, 8:16:51 PM12/12/93
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It's incorrect. If it's illegal to listen, then it's illegal to
record. It's legal to listen under federal law (18 USC 2510(1)), but
state law may forbid it.

I promise to put this discussion in the FAQ when I get around to
finishing it. For the moment, an archival post:


====
From: e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler)
Newsgroups: misc.consumers,misc.legal
Subject: Re: Security of cordless phones
Date: 29 Sep 1993 16:41:15 -0400
Organization: Timmy O'Danaos & Donna Ferentes, Inc.
Message-ID: <28crtb$8...@panix.com>
References: <UPSIU.93S...@queen.mcs.drexel.edu> <930929113...@steel.nist.gov>

In <930929113...@steel.nist.gov>, tfo...@nist.gov sez:
>>
>The golden rule of portables is: it's legal for others to listen to you

Depending on which state you're in, this may be entirely wrong. In a
small minority of states (of which NY is one), the wiretap/
eavesdropping laws have been construed to extend to deliberate
interception of cordless phone transmissions.

I kmow what you'll probably say: "but people should KNOW that they're
broadcasting on radio frequencies anyone can tune in on." (Of course
that's true, which is a major reason that the federal statute, Title
III, explicitly exempts cordless phone signals from its protective
reach.) I don't make the law, I just report it.

(Cite to relevant law happily furnished on request.)

--
,
Vertical orientation to space is so cliche-ridden to me.
- Elizabeth Streb, choreographer
Mark Eckenwiler e...@panix.com ...!cmcl2!panix!eck

Mark Eckenwiler

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Dec 12, 1993, 8:59:57 PM12/12/93
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In <2egf9q$i...@panix.com>, bha...@teal.csn.org sez:
>
>In Colorado here, as I assume elsewhere, we just had an ethics
>opinion that stated that attorneys have an ethical duty to
>inform their clients of the risks to loss of confidentiality
>should the client be using a cellular or cordless phone.

I don't doubt what Bruce says. This just seems like a convenient place
to point out that while Title III (the federal eavesdropping law)
protects cellular calls, it excludes cordless phone transmissions
(although the wire portion of such calls is still protected).


James Douglass Del-Vecchio

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Dec 13, 1993, 9:34:49 PM12/13/93
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za...@spot.Colorado.EDU (Daniel M. Zacek) writes:

>I do not believe this is correct. I think that regardless of the frequency
>range involved, it is illegal to intercept telephone conversations of any
>kind. Possible, yes, and quite easily for that matter, but still illegal.
>If your student is really interested, a call to the local FCC office should
>provide a definitive answer, as opposed to our hearsay. :)

There is no such thing as "easedropping" on a cordless phone
conversation. Cordless phone conversations are the same as walkie-talkie
conversations: they are public. You have no expectation of privacy when
you use the airwaves.

Jay Hennigan

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Dec 13, 1993, 11:58:40 PM12/13/93
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In article <2egfq3$j...@panix.com> e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler) writes:
>
>In <2ebs1b$m...@panix.com>, jn...@acad1.alaska.edu sez:
>>I teach a journalism class. One of my students is working on a story about
>>how easy it is for individuals with police scanners and ham radios to
>>eavesdrop on conversations involving cordless phones. I'm told it's
>>perfectly legal to listen in but it's illegal to record such a
>>conversation. Does anybody know if this is correct?
>
>It's incorrect. If it's illegal to listen, then it's illegal to
>record. It's legal to listen under federal law (18 USC 2510(1)), but
>state law may forbid it.

[deletia]

I'm a licensed radio operator, and not a lawyer, but this subject has come
up on various FCC tests with regard to radio communications, and specifically
with regard to cordless phones recently.

Radio communications with the exception of public broadcast, citizens, and
amateur bands are considered private under the Communications Act of 1934.
Until the ECPA was recently passed prohibiting interception of _cellular_
telephones, there was no prohibition against intercepting such communications.
In other words, shortwave and scanner enthusiasts had free rein to listen for
their own amusement to police, fire, taxicab, mobile and marine telephone,
and other such traffic. They still do with the exception of cellular phone
and communications which are csrambled (no matter how lame or easily broken
the scrambling method).

However, individuals intercepting such communications have been (at least
for the last 50+ years) prohibited from repeating the content or existence
of such communications to third parties or using it for personal gain. So,
for example, a cab driver who listens to his competition's radio calls and
uses what he hears to snatch fares is breaking the law, where someone sitting
at home who thinks taxicab dispathces are more entertaining than "I Love Lucy"
reruns is not.

Recently there was a case where a private citizen overheard conversations on
his neighbor's cordless phone that suggested criminal activity. He notified
the police, and the calls were recorded "off the air" (as opposed to by a
physical wiretap) and the information obtained was used against the owner
of the phone who was convicted of a crime (drug dealing, as I recall). The
defense wanted the information thrown out as a court order for wiretap was
not obtained, and the court ruled that the evidence was admissible as there
was no physical wiretap, and no "reasonable expectation of privacy" on a
cordless phone.

Note that cordless telephones differ from taxi and police radios (and cellular
and marine phones) in that no FCC license is required for their operation.
Cellular subscriber units aren't licensed to the individual, but an FCC
license is required for the telephone company providing the service. Whether
the lack of a license requirement makes a difference in the way intercepted
communications are viewed (under the Communications Act) I will leave to the
legal scholars among us.


Joseph Ross

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Dec 14, 1993, 7:42:20 PM12/14/93
to
This subject has been fairly well covered, but it is important to realize
that, although it is illegal to evesdrop on celular phone conversations,
many scanners are capable of doing so. While it is now illegal to
manufacture or sell such scanners, radio hobbyist magazines often contain
plans for modification of scanners to cover cellular frequencies. The
best rule is that a radio transmitter is a radio transmitter, and one
should assume that people are listening.

I once turned to the cordless phone frequencies on my scanner and heard
two lawyers discussing strategy in a criminal case. Be careful, folks!

--
======================================================================
A. Joseph Ross, J.D. law...@world.std.com
15 Court Square 617/367-0468
Boston, MA 02108-2573

Dave Bushong

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Dec 15, 1993, 10:45:41 PM12/15/93
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j...@coyote.rain.org (Jay Hennigan) writes:

>In article <2egfq3$j...@panix.com> e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler) writes:
>>
>>In <2ebs1b$m...@panix.com>, jn...@acad1.alaska.edu sez:
>>>I teach a journalism class. One of my students is working on a story about
>>>how easy it is for individuals with police scanners and ham radios to
>>>eavesdrop on conversations involving cordless phones. I'm told it's
>>>perfectly legal to listen in but it's illegal to record such a
>>>conversation. Does anybody know if this is correct?
>>
>>It's incorrect. If it's illegal to listen, then it's illegal to
>>record. It's legal to listen under federal law (18 USC 2510(1)), but
>>state law may forbid it.

>[deletia]

>I'm a licensed radio operator, and not a lawyer, but this subject has come
>up on various FCC tests with regard to radio communications, and specifically
>with regard to cordless phones recently.
>
>Radio communications with the exception of public broadcast, citizens, and
>amateur bands are considered private under the Communications Act of 1934.
>Until the ECPA was recently passed prohibiting interception of _cellular_
>telephones, there was no prohibition against intercepting such communications.

And regarding the ECPA, cordless phones are specifically mentioned twice:


TITLE 18. CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

PART I. CRIMES

CHAPTER 119. WIRE AND ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS INTERCEPTION AND
INTERCEPTION OF ORAL COMMUNICATIONS

Sec. 2510. Definitions

As used in this chapter --

(1) "wire communication" means any aural transfer made in whole or in
part through the use of facilities for the transmission of communications
by the aid of wire, cable, or other like connection between the point of
origin and the point of reception (including the use of such connection in
a switching station) furnished or operated by any person engaged in
providing or operating such facilities for the transmission of interstate
or foreign communications or communications affecting interstate or
foreign commerce and such term includes any electronic storage of such
communication, but such term does not include the radio portion of a
cordless telephone communication that is transmitted between the cordless
telephone handset and the base unit;

[...]

(12) "electronic communication" means any transfer of signs, signals,
writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted
in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or
photooptical system that affects interstate or foreign commerce, but does
not include--

(A) the radio portion of a cordless telephone communication that is
transmitted between the cordless telephone handset and the base unit;

[...]

For what that's worth......

Dave
--
Dave Bushong, Wang Laboratories, Inc. Amateur Radio Callsign KZ1O
Project Leader, Recognition products kz1o@n0ary.#noca.ca.na
Internet: dbus...@wang.com ARRL VE // W5YI VE

Dave Bushong

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Dec 16, 1993, 10:32:13 PM12/16/93
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law...@world.std.com (Joseph Ross) writes:

>I once turned to the cordless phone frequencies on my scanner and heard
>two lawyers discussing strategy in a criminal case. Be careful, folks!

You don't need radios to do that. In the locker room of my
racquetball club last week, these two attorneys were talking about a
current case in some detail (including saying something like 'He told
me he did it, but so far police haven't talked to [some witness]...)
and what his next strategy would be.

It was an interesting conversation, and as far as I know, locker rooms
enjoy no privilege of confidentiality.

Elite Entity

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Dec 18, 1993, 9:02:15 PM12/18/93
to

Mr. Del-Vecchio is correct. Aside from the Rat Shack salesmen assuring me
that scanning the 46.6-50 MHz range was legal, I called ARRL, where I was
assured that listening to cordless phone calls was *LEGAL*.
EE
Elite Entity
this news-server needs 7 more lines for some kooky reason so here goes:
1
2
3
4

6
7
All good children go to haven.


Mark Eckenwiler

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Dec 18, 1993, 9:42:39 PM12/18/93
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In <2f0cn7$s...@panix.com>, el...@mindvox.phantom.com sez:
>Mr. Del-Vecchio is correct. Aside from the Rat Shack salesmen assuring me
>that scanning the 46.6-50 MHz range was legal, I called ARRL, where I was
>assured that listening to cordless phone calls was *LEGAL*.

(I can't believe this stupidity keeps getting repeated.)

NOW HEAR THIS: It is *illegal* in some states to eavesdrop on
cordless phone conversations. New York (the state where elite's home
system Mindvox is located) is one of those states.

The eavesdropping statute in NY is Penal Law sec. 250.05. The court
decision expressly applying it to cordless phone calls is _People v.
Fata_, 159 A.D.2d 180, 559 N.Y.S.2d 248 (1st Dep't 1990).

Sheesh.

--
If you're at Davis Polk, get back to work.

Mark Eckenwiler e...@panix.com ...!cmcl2!panix!eck

Jason White

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Dec 19, 1993, 4:11:34 AM12/19/93
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In article <2f0f2v$2...@panix.com> e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler) writes:
>In <2f0cn7$s...@panix.com>, el...@mindvox.phantom.com sez:
>>Mr. Del-Vecchio is correct. Aside from the Rat Shack salesmen assuring me
>>that scanning the 46.6-50 MHz range was legal, I called ARRL, where I was
>>assured that listening to cordless phone calls was *LEGAL*.
>
>(I can't believe this stupidity keeps getting repeated.)

It happend when people make blanket statements like "it's ILLEGAL to
monitor cordless phones"....

>NOW HEAR THIS: It is *illegal* in some states to eavesdrop on
>cordless phone conversations. New York (the state where elite's home
>system Mindvox is located) is one of those states.
>
>The eavesdropping statute in NY is Penal Law sec. 250.05. The court
>decision expressly applying it to cordless phone calls is _People v.
>Fata_, 159 A.D.2d 180, 559 N.Y.S.2d 248 (1st Dep't 1990).

As long as we're listing exceptions:

Listening to cordless phones is also prohibited by California Penal Law
Section 632.6.


--
Jason D. White Durham Center Operations Staff
jdw...@iastate.edu Repeater Chairman, Cyclone Amateur Radio Club
Iowa State University Packet: n0rwu @ ki0q.#cia.ia.usa.na
Ames, Iowa

Omid Ramin

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Dec 19, 1993, 7:05:28 PM12/19/93
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>(I can't believe this stupidity keeps getting repeated.)

>NOW HEAR THIS: It is *illegal* in some states to eavesdrop on
>cordless phone conversations. New York (the state where elite's home
>system Mindvox is located) is one of those states.

I think we can conclude that it changes from place to place. If you want
to be sure, check your local laws. Anyone know about Vancouver, BC,
Canada? =).

A question. Since nobody owns the airwaves, how can they make it illegal
to listen in to anything? I ask with the inclusion of cel phones. It
is illegal here (and almost everywhere else) to listen in to cel phone
conversations, but what argument can be made for it? Just wondering,
since it seems to me that it would be fairlyy easy to overturn such a
law...

thanx

bill nelson

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Dec 22, 1993, 5:40:47 PM12/22/93
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e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler) writes:

: In <2f0cn7$s...@panix.com>, el...@mindvox.phantom.com sez:
: >Mr. Del-Vecchio is correct. Aside from the Rat Shack salesmen assuring me
: >that scanning the 46.6-50 MHz range was legal, I called ARRL, where I was
: >assured that listening to cordless phone calls was *LEGAL*.
:
: (I can't believe this stupidity keeps getting repeated.)
:
: NOW HEAR THIS: It is *illegal* in some states to eavesdrop on
: cordless phone conversations. New York (the state where elite's home
: system Mindvox is located) is one of those states.
:
: The eavesdropping statute in NY is Penal Law sec. 250.05. The court
: decision expressly applying it to cordless phone calls is _People v.
: Fata_, 159 A.D.2d 180, 559 N.Y.S.2d 248 (1st Dep't 1990).
:
: Sheesh.

And, the Supreme Court, in ruling on at least one similar case - stated
that states such laws are invalid - as the federal government, through
the FCC, has exclusive rights to regulate such matters.

Ted Frank, can you dig out the relevant legal cite?

Bill


Mark Eckenwiler

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Dec 22, 1993, 6:55:13 PM12/22/93
to
In <2faidf$b...@panix.com>, bi...@hpcvaac.cv.hp.com sez:

>e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler) writes:
>: NOW HEAR THIS: It is *illegal* in some states to eavesdrop on
>: cordless phone conversations. New York (the state where elite's home
>: system Mindvox is located) is one of those states.
>:
>: The eavesdropping statute in NY is Penal Law sec. 250.05. The court
>: decision expressly applying it to cordless phone calls is _People v.
>: Fata_, 159 A.D.2d 180, 559 N.Y.S.2d 248 (1st Dep't 1990).
>:
>And, the Supreme Court, in ruling on at least one similar case - stated
>that states such laws are invalid - as the federal government, through
>the FCC, has exclusive rights to regulate such matters.
>
>Ted Frank, can you dig out the relevant legal cite?

I hope he can, because a Shepard's and InstaCite inquiry on _Fata_
revealed no such case.

--
"There's not a single set of beliefs, ideals, visions that
anybody could rally around right now in the Republican Party."

Mark Eckenwiler e...@panix.com

Israel Silverman

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Dec 26, 1993, 10:26:43 PM12/26/93
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DB>>I once turned to the cordless phone frequencies on my scanner and heard
DB>>two lawyers discussing strategy in a criminal case. Be careful, folks!

DB>You don't need radios to do that. In the locker room of my
DB>racquetball club last week, these two attorneys were talking about a
DB>current case in some detail (including saying something like 'He told
DB>me he did it, but so far police haven't talked to [some witness]...)
DB>and what his next strategy would be.

DB>It was an interesting conversation, and as far as I know, locker rooms
DB>enjoy no privilege of confidentiality.

Perhaps a more interesting question is what right did the other
lawyer have to know details of this case? Were they both
assigned to or working on it? Did the client consent to such
discussion?

It is a violation of ethical rules to discuss details of a
client's case with anyone else, even if it's something
"interesting".
---
~ SLMR 2.1a #1210 ~ Drink Passover Coke! Made with SUGAR, not corn syrup!

Dave Bushong

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Dec 27, 1993, 7:46:57 PM12/27/93
to
israel.s...@cdreams.com (Israel Silverman) writes:

>DB>You don't need radios to do that. In the locker room of my
>DB>racquetball club last week, these two attorneys were talking about a
>DB>current case in some detail (including saying something like 'He told
>DB>me he did it, but so far police haven't talked to [some witness]...)
>DB>and what his next strategy would be.

>DB>It was an interesting conversation, and as far as I know, locker rooms
>DB>enjoy no privilege of confidentiality.

> Perhaps a more interesting question is what right did the other
> lawyer have to know details of this case? Were they both
> assigned to or working on it? Did the client consent to such
> discussion?

As far as I could tell, the one guy was just bragging to his r'ball
buddy. Apparently he was an attorney also, but it sounded like he was
involved in corporate law. He also sounded like he kept trying to
change the subject, but this guy just wouldn't shut up.

> It is a violation of ethical rules to discuss details of a
> client's case with anyone else, even if it's something
> "interesting".

Probably, "especially" if it's interesting.

Dave

Mark Eckenwiler

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Dec 28, 1993, 4:51:28 PM12/28/93
to
In <2faidf$b...@panix.com>, bi...@hpcvaac.cv.hp.com sez:
>e...@panix.com (Mark Eckenwiler) writes:
>:
>: (I can't believe this stupidity keeps getting repeated.)
>:
>: NOW HEAR THIS: It is *illegal* in some states to eavesdrop on
>: cordless phone conversations. New York (the state where elite's home
>: system Mindvox is located) is one of those states.
>:
>: The eavesdropping statute in NY is Penal Law sec. 250.05. The court
>: decision expressly applying it to cordless phone calls is _People v.
>: Fata_, 159 A.D.2d 180, 559 N.Y.S.2d 248 (1st Dep't 1990).
>:
>And, the Supreme Court, in ruling on at least one similar case - stated
>that states such laws are invalid - as the federal government, through
>the FCC, has exclusive rights to regulate such matters.

I'm still waiting for Bill (or anyone else) to furnish a cite to this
alleged decision.

--
They told me you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Mark Eckenwiler e...@panix.com ...!cmcl2!panix!eck

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