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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

The Art of the Butt Dial

It has happened to you I’m so sure. Your phone accidentally dials a number you called recently or you stick it in your pocket and another random number in your contacts pops up and starts to dial. You don’t know that your phone is on and everything you say and do can be heard by the person on the other end.

It could be really embarrassing.

It happens on the voicemail for my office phone more than people would expect. A voicemail is left and I can tell before I listen to it that the message that was left is really, really long. I have been able to listen to fights parents are having with their kids in the car, a married couple discussing something sensitive and then there are those embarrassing voicemails where I can maybe hear you sing in the car, order at a restaurant, or those bathroom recordings ….. thankfully the bathroom recordings are few and far between.

This past week, a court ruled that a person who “pocket-dials” a third party during a conversation does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In other words, evidence obtained from the eavesdropping or even recording what you hear from someone who has accidentally made a call to you can get you in a whole bunch of trouble.

Click here for more information about the ruling and the court case that was involved in the decision.

As you can see from reading about the ruling, the implications go far beyond what Deborah and I might hear on our voicemail at the office or what you hear from your son or daughter who accidentally records a conversation with a friend or even with you.

At home and in the workplace, you expect privacy. You expect that you aren’t being heard by others and that your conversation is just between you and someone else. Yes, we have to always be careful when it comes to privacy. Yes, we should always be careful with what we say. Now, it is important to aware of what your responsibility is as you protect your own privacy.

I remind patients who see me in therapy to check their phone and make sure it is turned off before we begin. I tell them that they might want to leave it in their car during our appointment. It’s not always that what we are talking about something that would get someone in trouble. It is that there is an expectation of privacy.

Even before this ruling, I have reminded people to do what they need to do to assure their own privacy when the expectation is that their conversations are confidential. My own cell phone and my own computer are typically not in my office when I’m seeing patients. I just don’t want to even take a chance that the breach of confidentiality could happen on my end.

Watch your phone, watch your pocket, and watch what your butt dials. Sometimes you just don’t want anyone else to be a part of the conversation.

Until next time,

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