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Dismissal of wiretap claim against ABC for hidden camera stands

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Privacy         Jan 19, 2000    

Dismissal of wiretap claim against ABC for hidden camera stands

  • The nation’s highest court has rejected a request that it review the decision of a federal appellate court to dismiss claims against ABC for wiretapping based on the use of a hidden camera.

The U.S. Supreme Court in mid-January declined to review a federal appellate court’s decision in mid-August 1999 to dismiss a lawsuit against ABC for violation of federal wiretapping laws.

When ABC reporter Stacy Lescht posed as a psychic advisor and secretly videotaped conversations with coworkers as part of an investigation of a telephone psychic hotline, she did not violate federal wiretapping laws, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif. (9th Cir.) in mid-August 1999. According to the court, “Where the taping is legal, but is done for the purpose of facilitating some further impropriety, such as blackmail, [the federal wiretapping statute] applies. Where the purpose is not illegal or tortious, but the means are, the victims must seek redress elsewhere.”

The Supreme Court denied review of the appellate court’s decision without comment.

The federal wiretapping statute states that it is unlawful for a person “to intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication . . . for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act.” The appellate court concluded that the psychic hotline employees who were secretly recorded “produced no probative evidence that ABC had an illegal or tortious purpose when it made the tape ” and affirmed a federal trial court’s ruling that Lescht did not violate the federal statute.

(Sussman v. American Broadcasting Cos., Inc.; Media Counsel: Steven M. Perry, Los Angeles)

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