The Federal Wiretap Act ("FWA") prohibits the interception and disclosure of electronic communications. The FWA contains a civil remedy provision through which a victim may recover from a "person or entity" alleged to have violated the statute. The somewhat ambiguous text of the FWA has led to varying interpretations of the civil remedy provision among courts.
Specifically, courts have disagreed over whether a municipality can be deemed an "entity" for purposes of the civil remedy provision. Most courts have held that a municipality is an "entity" and thus can be held liable for violations of the FWA. A few courts, however, have reached the opposite result. All courts addressing this issue have reached their respective conclusions based on an interpretation of the statutory text and legislative intent.
This Comment will first examine the history of wiretapping in the United States and its early legal ramifications. This Comment will then discuss the current circuit split regarding municipal liability under the FWA. This Comment concludes that a municipality can and should be held liable for its violations of the FWA, which comports with the FWA's general goal and traditional notions of the right to privacy. Not only does the statute's language and congressional history support this conclusion, but the doctrine of respondeat superior also serves as a secondary legal theory justifying municipal liability under the FWA.
Jenna M. Maresco,
Are They Listening? The Current Debate over Municipal Liability Under the Federal Wiretap Act,
Dick. L. Rev.
Available at: https://ideas.dickinsonlaw.psu.edu/dlra/vol119/iss4/6