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Washington State privacy/eavesdropping laws- legal to listen into someone else's home by phone and try to use it against them?

Tacoma, WA |
Filed under: Privacy law

My minor child spoke with his father by phone for a court-ordered call and thought he hung up the line afterward- but he did not. The phone line was left open, my ex-husband didn't hang up and eavesdropped into our home for a long time. Now he is "reporting" what he claims he heard over the line to try and change custody. Is it illegal that he eavesdropped and did not hang up the phone? The eavesdropping went well beyond the phone call time allowed by the court order and phone records prove the length of time he listened. He is reporting a manufactured version of lies of what he claims he heard to authorities when I did nothing wrong. In court would his "story" be hearsay? Can I file criminal charges for eavesdropping or do I have to have evidence of a recording to take any action?

Attorney Answers 3


This is a difficult question posed in a difficult area of the law.

Under federal law, it sounds like the father may have violated the federal wiretap act, which generally prohibits the interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications. See 18 USC § 2511.

Under Washington law, it is unlawful for any individual to intercept, or record any private communication transmitted by telephone, telegraph, radio, or other device between two or more individuals between points within or without the state by any device electronic or otherwise designed to record and/or transmit said communication regardless how such device is powered or actuated, without first obtaining the consent of all the participants in the communication. See RCW 9.73.030.

It appears that there _could_ be a criminal violation here, of either state or federal law (or both). This is not a matter which can be answered by the attorneys who are on Avvo -- this is a question for the local police and prosecuting attorney(s). I would suggest that you at least attempt to contact your local police agencies and prosecutors to see if there could be any help provided. Even if the police send somebody by the father's place to ask a few questions, even without any real intention to take any other steps, that might resolve some of the issues right there and then.

As to what the father is saying with respect to, "manufactured version of lies," that would be a potential issue for a civil attorney dealing with the exclusion of evidence and the cross-examination of the father as a proffering witness. It does not sound like you are at this point in time just yet. However, if you are soon going to facing the father in court, you really should have an attorney to represent you in this matter -- and not just because of the purported interception of communications.

Good luck!

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Comments that he heard you say could potentially be exceptions to the hearsay rule. Recording without authorization/permission is not what you described. Consult with a local attorney regarding the substance of what he alleges he overheard.

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I agree with the previous response.

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