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Criminal Resource Manual

1053. Exceptions to the Prohibitions—Interceptions by Providers of Wire or Electronic Communications Services

Section 2511(2)(a)(i) of Title 18 permits employees of providers of wire or electronic communication services to intercept, disclose or use wire or electronic communications in the normal course of employment while engaged in any activity which is necessarily incident to the rendition of service or to the protection of the rights or property of the carrier of the communication. (The 1994 Act made a "technical correction" that expanded this exception, which applies to wire or electronic service providers in the normal course of their business of rendering services or protecting rights or property to include not only wire communications but also electronic communications. House Rep. No. 103-827, 103d Cong., 2d Sess. 31 (1994), reprinted in 1994 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News 3489, 3511.) Interception, divulgence, or use for other purposes is not permitted.

The provision allows telephone companies to combat "blue box" toll fraud by intercepting portions of telephone calls which have been completed by circumventing the companies' billing systems. See United States v. Auler, 539 F.2d 642 (7th Cir. 1976); United States v. Clegg, 509 F.2d 605 (5th Cir. 1975). The provision has been applied by one court to an entity, an airline that operated a computerized travel reservation system, that was not a traditional telephone company. See United States v. Mullins, 992 F.2d 1472 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 509 U.S. 905 (1993).

[cited in USAM 9-60.200]