Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Right Call

Some parents in Washington state are outraged at the Washington State Supreme Court's ruling in State of Washington v. Oliver C. Christensen. The case ruling is available here. The parents' concern is that the Court's ruling reaffirms the state's privacy law regarding the interception and recording of telephone communications. Under that law, it is illegal for a parent (or anyone else) to listen to a child's telephone conversations without the consent of all parties to the conversation.

Oliver Christensen and another juvenile were involved in a purse snatching. The county sheriff believed Christensen might make contact with his girl friend, Lacey Dixon, so the sheriff contacted Dixon's mother and asked her to be alert for any evidence of the crime. Christensen telephoned the Dixon residence, and Lacey's mother answered on a cordless phone. After determining the caller was Christensen, Mrs. Dixon gave the cordless phone to her daughter who took it to her room, closed the door, and carried on a conversation. Without either Christensen's or her daughter's consent, Mrs. Christensen listened via the speakerphone feature and took notes. She turned the notes over to the sheriff. Christensen was arrested, and at trial, Mrs. Dixon's testimony about the conversations she overheard was admitted over defense counsel objections. Christensen was convicted and appealed, saying Mrs. Dixon's testimony should have been ruled inadmssible because the way she obtained it violated the state privacy law.

For the Supreme Court to have ruled otherwise would have been inappropriate judicial activism. To admit the overheard conversation would have been blatantly contrary to Washington State law.

Parents are evidently concerned they might be prosecuted criminally for listening to their children's telephone conversations. Parents reasonably believe that part of responsible parenting may include that kind of monitoring.

Realistically, it is hard to imagine that under similar circumstances, any elected prosecutor would prosecute a parent for this "illegal" interception. The most logical solution would be for Washington legislators to change the law. Parents should direct their outrage at the state's legislators, not at its judges.


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