Wiretap Act Does Not Cover Message 'in Storage' For Short Period (was Re: BNA's Internet Law News (ILN) - 2/27/03)

Tim Dierks tim at dierks.org
Wed Mar 5 11:40:20 PST 2003

At 02:30 PM 3/5/2003 -0500, Steven M. Bellovin wrote:
> >From: Somebody
> >
> >Technically, since their signal speed is slower than light, even
> >transmission lines act as storage devices.
> >
> >Wire tapping is now legal.
>The crucial difference, from a law enforcement perspective, is how hard
>it is to get the requisite court order.  A stored message order is
>relatively easy; a wiretap order is very hard.  Note that this
>distinction is primarily statutory, not (as far as I know)

Furthermore, it's apparently not illegal for a non-governmental actor to 
retrieve stored information which they have access to, although it might be 
illegal for them to wiretap a communication even if they had access to the 
physical medium over which it travels.

I disagree with "Somebody"'s claim; I don't think that claim would go 
anywhere in court, since a transmission clearly falls under the category of 
"wire communication", and it's clear that transmission lines are the very 
entities the wiretap act has always been intended to protect, so Congress' 
intent is quite clear, regardless of any argument about "storage".

  - Tim

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