It has been a practice of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) since at least 1979 to tape
By way of preface, we shall refer to the relevant statutory terms and note the background facts and particulars of the litigation. Then we deal with the interpretive question.
I. Prefatory. a. As reflected in its preamble, the wiretap statute was enacted to give due protection to the privacy of individuals by barring the secret use of electronic surveillance devices for eavesdropping purposes, and at the same time to help in the fight against organized crime by validating the limited and controlled utilization of such devices by law enforcement authorities. § 99 A. The statute prohibits generally the "interception" of wire communications, which includes secret recording by means of an "intercepting device." §§ 99 B, 99 C 1. In turn, an "intercepting device" is defined as
b. The MBTA is responsible for providing mass transit services to seventy-eight municipalities in eastern Massachusetts. See G. L. c. 161A, §§ 2-3. Its policy of tape recording telephone calls placed to or from the major centers of subway and bus operations was directed to improving efficiency, ensuring public safety, and seeing to employee compliance with applicable law. So, for example, the recordings aim to provide a record of procedures followed during emergencies, to aid accident investigations by internal means as well as by agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board, and to preserve records of reports of and responses to problems with equipment and facilities. During the three-year period sued for, from September 3, 1993, to September 3, 1996, when the plaintiffs started this action (an arbitrary operational period, but one that harkens to the statute of limitations), there were four critical hubs, the Operations Control Center, the MBTA Police Department, the Maintenance Control Center, and the Power Department, all operating around the clock.
The four recording machines at issue, one per center (two "Dictaphone 5000" units, one "Magnasync 2-4/P-60," one "Lanier Systems"), were of three different commercial makes, but shared certain features. Each was a refrigerator-sized, multichannel apparatus that simultaneously, continuously, and automatically made reel-to-reel tape recordings of all communications on numerous telephone lines while noting time of day.
The present appellate record provides details of but one recorded call. In early May, 1996, the plaintiff Dillon, a veteran MBTA employee, a supervisor of maintenance personnel, placed a business call from an MBTA telephone located outside an operational center to Joseph Musso, a clerk at the Maintenance Control Center, where the call was recorded without Dillon's knowledge, as he asserts.
c. The plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that they had participated in conversations on recorded MBTA phone lines and the MBTA had intercepted these communications without their knowledge or consent in violation of the wiretap statute. On behalf of themselves and the class similarly situated, they prayed for damages under § 99 Q.
In its cross motion MBTA submitted the deposition of Dillon, uncontradicted affidavits of MBTA officials, and answers to the plaintiffs' interrogatories which provided the information about the recording systems summarized above. In a memorandum relying on the O'Sullivan case and authority about the corresponding Federal wiretap statute, the judge dealt with the element of the exception that the devices be furnished by a telephone company; he also discussed the other two features of the exception. Judgment entered for the MBTA.
II. Interpretive. a. "Communications common carrier."
Our wiretap statute was enacted in substantially its present form in 1968, see St. 1968, c. 738, § 1.
Because of this and many other changes in the industrial setting, the Federal statute was recognized to be "hopelessly out
We do not depart lightly from the express wording of a statute, see Bartlett v. Greyhound Real Estate Fin. Co., 41 Mass.App.Ct. 282, 289 (1996), but in the unusual circumstances appearing here we agree with the court below that a deviation is justified. The fact that there has been no amendment of the Massachusetts statute comparable to the Congressional action of 1986 does not bar us from reading the exception so as to preserve it in its intrinsic intended scope and maintain its viability in the broad run of cases; the plaintiffs' proposal would in effect destroy the exception.
The present question of interpretation has arisen elsewhere. The telephone equipment exception in the Connecticut wiretap statute, paralleling the exception in our statute, has been read to embrace devices obtained from non-telephone company sources, despite the lack of an amendment of the law on the lines of the Federal amendment of 1986. See State v. McVeigh, 224 Conn. at 615-618 (exception extends to wire communications intercepted from telephones obtained from non-telephone company sources: "[w]e decline to read the act so as to have created such a dead zone"); In re State Police Litigation, 888 F.Supp. 1235, 1269 (D. Conn. 1995) ("Although the State Wiretap Act has not been amended to clarify that equipment need not be provided by the telephone company, unlike [the Federal statute], the Connecticut Supreme Court has noted that telephone equipment bought from other vendors satisfies the requirement" [footnote omitted], citing the McVeigh case). Holding for the MBTA, the judge below said in the same sense: "[T]his court finds that the words `communications common carrier' ... should be read in a manner that more closely reflects the reality of the telecommunications industry as it exists today, not as it existed two decades ago."
b. "Telephone ... equipment." To qualify for the exception, the MBTA recorders must be "telephone equipment." In their
Echoing the contention we have rejected under II a, supra, the plaintiffs appear to be saying that the recorders cannot be telephone equipment because they were supplied by non-telephone company sources. It is not so. Rather the meaning of telephone equipment is brought out in the O'Sullivan case itself.
Employees at the marketing center of the NYNEX telephone company made calls to NYNEX's subscribers offering new services. A computerized system recorded, randomly and secretly, for quality control purposes, the conversations between the telemarketers and the subscribers. A group of the subscribers sued NYNEX, claiming violation of the Massachusetts wiretap statute. The company defended successfully under the exception. The recording system, a combined software/hardware device known as "AutoQuality!," did not make or receive phone calls but recorded them for later playback. The parties in the O'Sullivan litigation were in agreement (see their briefs on the appeal) that it was a private company named Teknekron Infoswitch, Inc. — not itself a telephone company — that manufactured and sold "AutoQuality!" to the defendant NYNEX. In holding that "AutoQuality!" was "telephone equipment" within the exception, the court relied on the fact that it was designed to operate with telephone lines for routine business use, was connected directly to the telephone lines, and served no function apart from use with phone lines. The court said: "If the device is connected directly to the phone line it is more likely to be `telephone equipment' within the meaning of the wiretap statute." 426 Mass. at 265.
Similarly, the MBTA devices, commercially designed, were purchased by the defendant for routine business, were directly integrated into phone lines on which they depended in order to function, and recorded conversations for possible future listening. Contrast Williams v. Poulos, 11 F.3d 271, 280 (1st Cir. 1993) (cited in O'Sullivan, 426 Mass. at 264), where a makeshift system, pieced together from "alligator clips attached to a microphone cable at one end" and an "interface connecting [a] microphone cable to a [video cassette recorder] and a video camera" on the other, was not "telephone equipment." In contrast also is Deal v. Spears, 980 F.2d 1153, 1157 (8th Cir.
c. "Ordinary course of business." We reach the words of the exception that the equipment be "used by the subscriber or user in the ordinary course of its business." This requirement has been rightly recognized as the crux of the exception in its practical application. See Campiti v. Walonis, 611 F.2d 387, 392 (1st Cir. 1979); Abel v. Bonfanti, 625 F.Supp. 263, 269-270 (S.D.N.Y. 1985); Fishman & McKenna, Wiretapping & Eavesdropping, §§ 2.29-2.30, 2.33; Carr, The Law of Electronic Surveillance § 3.2(f)(1), at 3-59 (2d ed. 1986). "Ordinary course of ... business" translates as "legitimate business purpose." O'Sullivan v. NYNEX Corp., 426 Mass. at 266. There is no trouble accepting that MBTA had such a purpose in establishing a recording system; it acted upon the considerations of efficiency, safety, and sound maintenance record-keeping in a twenty-four hours a day mass transit operation that have been noted above. Similarly, the company in the O'Sullivan case had a sound business interest in monitoring the quality of telephone calls from telemarketers to customers. 426 Mass. at 267. For other examples of valid business justifications, see Arias v. Mutual Cent. Alarm Serv., Inc., 202 F.3d 553, 559 (2d Cir. 2000); Crosland v. Horgan, 401 Mass. 271, 275-276 (1987).
In the nature of MBTA's recording system, it took in some calls made or received by employees that were personal to them, not business connected. This was an unavoidable byproduct or consequence of the necessarily continuous recording, and thus tolerable if the system in the main was lawful. See Amati v. Woodstock, 176 F.3d 952, 956 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 120 S.Ct. 445 (1999). There is no suggestion in the record that MBTA has had any curiosity about the private affairs of its employees that it was seeking to satisfy by means of the recording system. Cf. Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., 704 F.2d 577, 583 (11th Cir. 1983). If, in any particular case, MBTA exploited the system to serve an unseemly object, the individual employee could seek
The recording machines were simultaneously used to monitor MBTA radio transmissions, and in total could record up to twelve radio channels. These radio communications are not an issue in this case.
18 U.S.C. § 2510(5)(a) (emphasized language added by 1986 amendment).
The plaintiffs mention Sanders v. Robert Bosch Corp., 38 F.3d 736, 740-741 (4th Cir. 1994) (2-1 decision) (cited in O'Sullivan, 426 Mass. at 265) (continuously recording, eight channel tape recording "voice logger" system not "telephone equipment"). Considering the similarity of the equipment in the two cases, the result in Sanders is inconsistent with that in O'Sullivan, and, as we suggest, unpersuasive.