Bartnicki V. Vopper : a first amendment "clean hands" exception to electronic interception law


The Constitution provides each United States citizen certain rights which cannot be abridged. Among them is the freedom to speak without fear of persecution or prosecution. While there are exceptions when the government finds interests paramount to free expression, on the whole this guarantee ensures that the no person will be punished for expressing his or her views. Another guarantee, implied through Constitutional language, is the right to privacy. To ensure privacy, the United States Congress and several state governments enacted laws that impose harsh penalties for those who secretly record others' private communications. Upon realizing that the true harm comes from the use or disclosure of intercepted material, governments punish those who make such use or disclosure. A problem arises when a person, who neither participated in nor encouraged an "illegal" interception of another's communication, discloses the interception under his or her right to speak freely. Which guarantee rules-the right to free speech, or the right to privacy? This paper centers on a case in which such a conflict arose. The purpose is to demonstrate that whatever positive impact there may exist in allowing the disclosure of certain communications through a First Amendment "clean hands" exception to current interception laws, that impact is outweighed by the need to guarantee that persons will not be subjected to unwanted intrusion into their private conversations for any reason.


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Thesis Completion





Bast, Carol M.


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Legal Studies


Dissertations, Academic -- Health and Public Affairs;Health and Public Affairs -- Dissertations, Academic;Freedom of speech -- United States;Privacy, Right of -- United States







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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