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High court to rule on wiretapping question

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Privacy         Jun 27, 2000    

High court to rule on wiretapping question

  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in June to decide whether wiretapping laws preclude the news media from publishing or broadcasting an illegally taped conversation when the contents are innocently received.

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 accepted for review a case that will determine whether the news media can be sued for publishing or broadcasting an illegally taped conversation that is innocently received.

The case, on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.), involves the 1993 broadcast of a phone conversation between the chief negotiator and president of a teachers’ union in Pennsylvania.

The conversation was intercepted and recorded by an unknown person. He left the tape in the mailbox of the president of the local taxpayers’ association, who turned it over to two radio stations. The stations simultaneously broadcast the recording.

In 1996, the two union leaders won a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa.., against the radio stations and the president of the taxpayers’ association. The appellate court reversed the case in January of this year, finding that otherwise reporters might elect not to report information of public concern for fear their sources may have obtained the information illegally.

(Bartnicki v. Vopper; Media Counsel: Raymond Wendolowski, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) DB

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