Justice Stevens, delivered the opinion of the Court.
These cases raise an important question concerning what degree of protection, if any, the First Amendment provides to speech that discloses the contents of an illegally intercepted communication. That question is both novel and narrow. Despite the fact that federal law has prohibited such disclosures since 1934,
The suit at hand involves the repeated intentional disclosure of an illegally intercepted cellular telephone conversation about a public issue. The persons who made the disclosures did not participate in the interception, but they did know—or at least had reason to know—that the interception
During 1992 and most of 1993, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a union representing the teachers at the Wyoming Valley West High School, engaged in collectivebargaining negotiations with the school board. Petitioner Kane, then the president of the local union, testified that the negotiations were "`contentious' " and received "a lot of media attention." App. 79, 92. In May 1993, petitioner Bartnicki, who was acting as the union's "chief negotiator," used the cellular phone in her car to call Kane and engage in a lengthy conversation about the status of the negotiations. An unidentified person intercepted and recorded that call.
In their conversation, Kane and Bartnicki discussed the timing of a proposed strike, id., at 41-45, difficulties created by public comment on the negotiations, id., at 46, and the need for a dramatic response to the board's intransigence. At one point, Kane said: "`If they're not gonna move for three percent, we're gonna have to go to their, their
In the early fall of 1993, the parties accepted a nonbinding arbitration proposal that was generally favorable to the teachers. In connection with news reports about the settlement, respondent Vopper, a radio commentator who had been critical of the union in the past, played a tape of the intercepted conversation on his public affairs talk show. Another station also broadcast the tape, and local newspapers published its contents. After filing suit against Vopper and other representatives of the media, Bartnicki and Kane (hereinafter petitioners) learned through discovery that Vopper had obtained the tape from respondent Jack Yocum, the head of a local taxpayers' organization that had opposed the union's demands throughout the negotiations. Yocum, who was added as a defendant, testified that he had found the tape in his mailbox shortly after the interception and recognized the voices of Bartnicki and Kane. Yocum played the tape for some members of the school board, and later delivered the tape itself to Vopper.
In their amended complaint, petitioners alleged that their telephone conversation had been surreptitiously intercepted by an unknown person using an electronic device, that Yocum had obtained a tape of that conversation, and that he intentionally disclosed it to Vopper, as well as other individuals and media representatives. Thereafter, Vopper and other members of the media repeatedly published the contents of that conversation. The amended complaint alleged that each of the defendants "knew or had reason to know" that the recording of the private telephone conversation had been obtained by means of an illegal interception. Id.,
After the parties completed their discovery, they filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Respondents contended that they had not violated the statute because (a) they had nothing to do with the interception, and (b) in any event, their actions were not unlawful since the conversation might have been intercepted inadvertently. Moreover, even if they had violated the statute by disclosing the intercepted conversation, respondents argued, those disclosures were protected by the First Amendment. The District Court rejected the first statutory argument because, under the plain statutory language, an individual violates the federal Act by intentionally disclosing the contents of an electronic communication when he or she "know[s] or ha[s] reason to know that the information was obtained" through an illegal interception.
Thereafter, the District Court granted a motion for an interlocutory appeal, pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 1292(b). It certified as controlling questions of law: "(1) whether the imposition of liability on the media Defendants under the [wiretapping statutes] solely for broadcasting the newsworthy tape on the Defendant [Vopper's] radio news/public affairs program, when the tape was illegally intercepted and recorded by unknown persons who were not agents of [the] Defendants, violates the First Amendment; and (2) whether imposition of liability under the aforesaid [wiretapping] statutes on Defendant Jack Yocum solely for providing the anonymously intercepted and recorded tape to the media Defendants violates the First Amendment." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 99-1728, p. 76a. The Court of Appeals accepted the appeal, and the United States, also a petitioner, intervened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2403 in order to defend the constitutionality of the federal statute.
All three members of the panel agreed with petitioners and the Government that the federal and Pennsylvania wiretapping statutes are "content-neutral" and therefore subject to "intermediate scrutiny." 200 F.3d 109, 121 (CA3 1999). Applying that standard, the majority concluded that the
As we pointed out in Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41, 45-49 (1967), sophisticated (and not so sophisticated) methods of eavesdropping on oral conversations and intercepting telephone calls have been practiced for decades, primarily by law enforcement authorities.
One of the stated purposes of that title was "to protect effectively the privacy of wire and oral communications." Ibid. In addition to authorizing and regulating electronic surveillance for law enforcement purposes, Title III also regulated private conduct. One part of those regulations, § 2511(1), defined five offenses punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000, by imprisonment for not more than five years, or by both. Subsection (a) applied to any person who "willfully intercepts . . . any wire or oral communication." Subsection (b) applied to the intentional use of devices designed to intercept oral conversations; subsection (d) applied to the use of the contents of illegally intercepted wire or
As enacted in 1968, Title III did not apply to the monitoring of radio transmissions. In the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 100 Stat. 1848, however, Congress enlarged the coverage of Title III to prohibit the interception of "electronic" as well as oral and wire communications. By reason of that amendment, as well as a 1994 amendment which applied to cordless telephone communications, 108 Stat. 4279, Title III now applies to the interception of conversations over both cellular and cordless phones.
The constitutional question before us concerns the validity of the statutes as applied to the specific facts of these cases. Because of the procedural posture of these cases, it is appropriate to make certain important assumptions about those
In answering that question, we accept respondents' submission on three factual matters that serve to distinguish most of the cases that have arisen under § 2511. First, respondents played no part in the illegal interception. Rather, they found out about the interception only after it occurred, and in fact never learned the identity of the person or persons who made the interception. Second, their access to the information on the tapes was obtained lawfully, even though the information itself was intercepted unlawfully by someone else. Cf. Florida Star v. B. J. F., 491 U.S. 524, 536 (1989) ("Even assuming the Constitution permitted a State to proscribe receipt of information, Florida has not taken this step"). Third, the subject matter of the conversation was a matter of public concern. If the statements about the labor negotiations had been made in a public arena—during a bargaining session, for example—they would have been newsworthy. This would also be true if a third party had inadvertently overheard Bartnicki making the same statements to Kane when the two thought they were alone.
We agree with petitioners that § 2511(1)(c), as well as its Pennsylvania analog, is in fact a content-neutral law of general applicability. "Deciding whether a particular regulation is content based or content neutral is not always a simple task. . . . As a general rule, laws that by their terms distinguish favored speech from disfavored speech on the basis of the ideas or views expressed are content based." Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 642-643 (1994). In determining whether a regulation is content based or content neutral, we look to the purpose behind the regulation; typically, "[g]overnment regulation of expressive activity is content neutral so long as it is `justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech.' " Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989).
In this suit, the basic purpose of the statute at issue is to "protec[t] the privacy of wire[, electronic,] and oral communications." S. Rep. No. 1097, 90th Cong., 2d Sess., 66 (1968). The statute does not distinguish based on the content of the intercepted conversations, nor is it justified by reference to the content of those conversations. Rather, the communications at issue are singled out by virtue of the fact that they were illegally intercepted—by virtue of the source, rather than the subject matter.
On the other hand, the naked prohibition against disclosures is fairly characterized as a regulation of pure speech. Unlike the prohibition against the "use" of the contents of
As a general matter, "state action to punish the publication of truthful information seldom can satisfy constitutional standards." Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97, 102 (1979). More specifically, this Court has repeatedly
Accordingly, in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) (per curiam), the Court upheld the right of the press to publish information of great public concern obtained from documents stolen by a third party. In so doing, that decision resolved a conflict between the basic rule against prior restraints on publication and the interest in preserving the secrecy of information that, if disclosed, might seriously impair the security of the Nation. In resolving that conflict, the attention of every Member of this Court was focused on the character of the stolen documents' contents and the consequences of public disclosure. Although the undisputed fact that the newspaper intended to publish information obtained from stolen documents was noted in Justice Harlan's dissent, id., at 754, neither the majority nor the dissenters placed any weight on that fact.
However, New York Times v. United States raised, but did not resolve, the question "whether, in cases where information has been acquired unlawfully by a newspaper or by a source, government may ever punish not only the unlawful acquisition, but the ensuing publication as well."
The Government identifies two interests served by the statute—first, the interest in removing an incentive for parties to intercept private conversations, and second, the interest in minimizing the harm to persons whose conversations have been illegally intercepted. We assume that those interests adequately justify the prohibition in § 2511(1)(d) against the interceptor's own use of information that he or she acquired by violating § 2511(1)(a), but it by no means follows that punishing disclosures of lawfully obtained information of public interest by one not involved in the initial illegality is an acceptable means of serving those ends.
The normal method of deterring unlawful conduct is to impose an appropriate punishment on the person who engages in it. If the sanctions that presently attach to a violation of § 2511(1)(a) do not provide sufficient deterrence, perhaps those sanctions should be made more severe. But it would be quite remarkable to hold that speech by a law-abiding possessor of information can be suppressed in order to deter
With only a handful of exceptions, the violations of § 2511(1)(a) that have been described in litigated cases have been motivated by either financial gain or domestic disputes.
Although this suit demonstrates that there may be an occasional situation in which an anonymous scanner will risk criminal prosecution by passing on information without any expectation of financial reward or public praise, surely this is the exceptional case. Moreover, there is no basis for assuming that imposing sanctions upon respondents will deter the unidentified scanner from continuing to engage in surreptitious interceptions. Unusual cases fall far short of a
The Government's second argument, however, is considerably stronger. Privacy of communication is an important interest, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 559 (1985),
We need not decide whether that interest is strong enough to justify the application of § 2511(c) to disclosures of trade secrets or domestic gossip or other information of purely private concern. Cf. Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 387-388 (1967) (reserving the question whether truthful publication of private matters unrelated to public affairs can be constitutionally proscribed). In other words, the outcome of these cases does not turn on whether § 2511(1)(c) may be enforced with respect to most violations of the statute without offending the First Amendment. The enforcement of that provision in these cases, however, implicates the core purposes
In these cases, privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance. As Warren and Brandeis stated in their classic law review article: "The right of privacy does not prohibit any publication of matter which is of public or general interest." The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193, 214 (1890). One of the costs associated with participation in public affairs is an attendant loss of privacy.
We think it clear that parallel reasoning requires the conclusion that a stranger's illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.
The judgment is affirmed.
I join the Court's opinion. I agree with its narrow holding limited to the special circumstances present here: (1) the radio broadcasters acted lawfully (up to the time of final public disclosure); and (2) the information publicized involved
As the Court recognizes, the question before us—a question of immunity from statutorily imposed civil liability— implicates competing constitutional concerns. Ante, at 532— 533. The statutes directly interfere with free expression in that they prevent the media from publishing information. At the same time, they help to protect personal privacy—an interest here that includes not only the "right to be let alone," Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting), but also "the interest . . . in fostering private speech," ante, at 518. Given these competing interests "on both sides of the equation, the key question becomes one of proper fit." Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 520 U.S. 180, 227 (1997) (Breyer, J., concurring in part). See also Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U.S. 377, 402 (2000) (Breyer, J., concurring).
I would ask whether the statutes strike a reasonable balance between their speech-restricting and speech-enhancing consequences. Or do they instead impose restrictions on speech that are disproportionate when measured against their corresponding privacy and speech-related benefits, taking into account the kind, the importance, and the extent of these benefits, as well as the need for the restrictions in order to secure those benefits? What this Court has called "strict scrutiny"—with its strong presumption against constitutionality—is normally out of place where, as here, important competing constitutional interests are implicated. See ante, at 518 (recognizing "conflict between interests of the highest order"); ante, at 533 ("important interests to be considered on both sides of the constitutional calculus"); ante, at 534 ("balanc[ing]" the interest in privacy "against the interest
The statutory restrictions before us directly enhance private speech. See Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 559 (1985) (describing "`freedom not to speak publicly' " (quoting Estate of Hemingway v. Random House, Inc., 23 N.Y.2d 341, 348, 244 N.E.2d 250, 255 (1968))). The statutes ensure the privacy of telephone conversations much as a trespass statute ensures privacy within the home. That assurance of privacy helps to overcome our natural reluctance to discuss private matters when we fear that our private conversations may become public. And the statutory restrictions consequently encourage conversations that otherwise might not take place.
At the same time, these statutes restrict public speech directly, deliberately, and of necessity. They include media publication within their scope not simply as a means, say, to deter interception, but also as an end. Media dissemination of an intimate conversation to an entire community will often cause the speakers serious harm over and above the harm caused by an initial disclosure to the person who intercepted the phone call. See Gelbard v. United States, 408 U.S. 41, 51-52 (1972). And the threat of that widespread dissemination can create a far more powerful disincentive to speak privately than the comparatively minor threat of disclosure to an interceptor and perhaps to a handful of others. Insofar as these statutes protect private communications against that widespread dissemination, they resemble laws that would award damages caused through publication of information obtained by theft from a private bedroom. See generally Warren & Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890) (hereinafter Warren & Brandeis). See also Restatement (Second) of Torts §
As a general matter, despite the statutes' direct restrictions on speech, the Federal Constitution must tolerate
Nonetheless, looked at more specifically, the statutes, as applied in these circumstances, do not reasonably reconcile the competing constitutional objectives. Rather, they disproportionately interfere with media freedom. For one thing, the broadcasters here engaged in no unlawful activity other than the ultimate publication of the information another had previously obtained. They "neither encouraged nor participated directly or indirectly in the interception." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 99-1687, p. 33a. See also ante, at 525. No one claims that they ordered, counseled, encouraged, or otherwise aided or abetted the interception, the later delivery of the tape by the interceptor to an intermediary, or the tape's still later delivery by the intermediary to the media. Cf. 18 U. S. C. § 2 (criminalizing aiding and abetting any federal offense); 2 W. LaFave & A. Scott, Substantive Criminal Law §§ 6.6(b)—(c), pp. 128-129 (1986) (describing criminal liability for aiding and abetting). And, as the Court points out, the statutes do not forbid the receipt of the tape itself. Ante, at 525. The Court adds that its holding "does not apply to punishing parties for obtaining the relevant information unlawfully. " Ante, at 532, n. 19 (emphasis added).
Further, the speakers themselves, the president of a teacher's union and the union's chief negotiator, were "limited public figures," for they voluntarily engaged in a public controversy. They thereby subjected themselves to somewhat greater public scrutiny and had a lesser interest in privacy than an individual engaged in purely private affairs. See, e. g., ante, at 535 (respondents were engaged in matter of public concern); Wolston v. Reader's Digest Assn., Inc., 443 U.S. 157,
This is not to say that the Constitution requires anyone, including public figures, to give up entirely the right to private communication, i. e., communication free from telephone taps or interceptions. But the subject matter of the conversation at issue here is far removed from that in situations where the media publicizes truly private matters. See Michaels v. Internet Entertainment Group, Inc., 5 F.Supp.2d 823, 841-842 (CD Cal. 1998) (broadcast of videotape recording of sexual relations between famous actress and rock star not a matter of legitimate public concern); W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, & D. Owen, Prosser & Keeton on Law of Torts § 117, p. 857 (5th ed. 1984) (stating that there is little expectation of privacy in mundane facts about a person's life, but that "portrayal of . . . intimate private characteristics or conduct" is "quite a different matter"); Warren & Brandeis 214 (recognizing that in certain matters "the community has no legitimate concern"). Cf. Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448, 454-455 (1976) (despite interest of public, divorce of wealthy person not a "public controversy"). Cf. also ante, at 533 ("[S]ome intrusions on privacy are more offensive than others").
Thus, in finding a constitutional privilege to publish unlawfully intercepted conversations of the kind here at issue, the Court does not create a "public interest" exception that swallows up the statutes' privacy-protecting general rule. Rather, it finds constitutional protection for publication of intercepted information of a special kind. Here, the speakers' legitimate privacy expectations are unusually low, and the public interest in defeating those expectations is unusually high. Given these circumstances, along with the lawful nature of respondents' behavior, the statutes' enforcement would disproportionately harm media freedom.
For these reasons, we should avoid adopting overly broad or rigid constitutional rules, which would unnecessarily restrict legislative flexibility. I consequently agree with the Court's holding that the statutes as applied here violate the Constitution, but I would not extend that holding beyond these present circumstances.
Chief Justice Rehnquist, with whom Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas join, dissenting.
Technology now permits millions of important and confidential conversations to occur through a vast system of electronic networks. These advances, however, raise significant privacy concerns. We are placed in the uncomfortable position of not knowing who might have access to our personal and business e-mails, our medical and financial records, or our cordless and cellular telephone conversations. In an attempt to prevent some of the most egregious violations of privacy, the United States, the District of Columbia,
Over 30 years ago, with Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Congress recognized that the
The Court correctly observes that these are "contentneutral law[s] of general applicability" which serve recognized interests of the "highest order": "the interest in individual privacy and . . . in fostering private speech." Ante, at 526, 518. It nonetheless subjects these laws to the strict scrutiny normally reserved for governmental attempts to censor different viewpoints or ideas. See ante, at 532 (holding that petitioners have not established the requisite "`need. . . of the highest order' ") (quoting Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97, 103 (1979)). There is scant support, either in precedent or in reason, for the Court's tacit application of strict scrutiny.
The Court's attempt to avoid these precedents by reliance upon the Daily Mail string of newspaper cases is unpersuasive. In these cases, we held that statutes prohibiting the media from publishing certain truthful information—the name of a rape victim, Florida Star v. B. J. F., 491 U.S. 524 (1989); Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975), the confidential proceedings before a state judicial review commission, Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978), and the name of a juvenile defendant, Daily Mail, supra; Oklahoma Publishing Co. v. District Court, Oklahoma Cty., 430 U.S. 308 (1977) (per curiam) — violated the First Amendment. In so doing, we stated that "if a newspaper lawfully obtains truthful information about a matter of public significance then state officials may not constitutionally punish publication of the information, absent a need to further a state interest of the highest order." Daily Mail, supra, at 103. Neither this Daily Mail principle nor any other aspect of these cases, however, justifies the Court's imposition of strict scrutiny here.
Each of the laws at issue in the Daily Mail cases regulated the content or subject matter of speech. This fact alone was enough to trigger strict scrutiny, see United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U.S. 803, 813 (2000) ("[A] content-based speech restriction . . . can stand only if it satisfies strict scrutiny"), and suffices to distinguish these anti disclosure provisions. But, as our synthesis of these
First, the information published by the newspapers had been lawfully obtained from the government itself.
Second, the information in each case was already "publicly available," and punishing further dissemination would not have advanced the purported government interests of confidentiality. Florida Star, supra, at 535. Such is not the case here. These statutes only prohibit "disclos[ure]," 18 U. S. C. § 2511(1)(c); 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5703(2) (2000), and one cannot "disclose" what is already in the public domain. See Black's Law Dictionary 477 (7th ed. 1999) (defining "disclosure" as "[t]he act or process of making known something that was previously unknown; a revelation of facts");
Third, these cases were concerned with "the `timidity and self-censorship' which may result from allowing the media to be punished for publishing certain truthful information." Florida Star, 491 U. S., at 535. But fear of "timidity and self-censorship" is a basis for upholding, not striking down, these anti disclosure provisions: They allow private conversations to transpire without inhibition. And unlike the statute at issue in Florida Star, which had no scienter requirement, see id., at 539, these statutes only address those who knowingly disclose an illegally intercepted conversation.
In sum, it is obvious that the Daily Mail cases upon which the Court relies do not address the question presented here. Our decisions themselves made this clear: "The Daily Mail principle does not settle the issue whether, in cases where information has been acquired unlawfully by a newspaper or by a source, government may ever punish not only the unlawful acquisition, but the ensuing publication as well." Florida Star, supra, at 535, n. 8; see also Daily Mail, 443 U. S., at 105 ("Our holding in this case is narrow. There is no issue before us of unlawful press [conduct]"); Landmark
Undaunted, the Court places an inordinate amount of weight upon the fact that the receipt of an illegally intercepted communication has not been criminalized. See ante, at 528-532. But this hardly renders those who knowingly receive and disclose such communications "law-abiding," ante, at 529, and it certainly does not bring them under the Daily Mail principle. The transmission of the intercepted communication from the eavesdropper to the third party is itself illegal; and where, as here, the third party then knowingly discloses that communication, another illegal act has been committed. The third party in this situation cannot be likened to the reporters in the Daily Mail cases, who lawfully obtained their information through consensual interviews or public documents.
These laws are content neutral; they only regulate information that was illegally obtained; they do not restrict republication of what is already in the public domain; they impose no special burdens upon the media; they have a scienter requirement to provide fair warning; and they promote the privacy and free speech of those using cellular telephones. It is hard to imagine a more narrowly tailored prohibition of the disclosure of illegally intercepted communications, and it distorts our precedents to review these statutes under the often fatal standard of strict scrutiny. These laws therefore should be upheld if they further a substantial
Congress and the overwhelming majority of States reasonably have concluded that sanctioning the knowing disclosure of illegally intercepted communications will deter the initial interception itself, a crime which is extremely difficult to detect. It is estimated that over 20 million scanners capable of intercepting cellular transmissions currently are in operation, see Thompson, Cell Phone Snooping: Why Electronic Eavesdropping Goes Unpunished, 35 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 137, 149 (1997), notwithstanding the fact that Congress prohibited the marketing of such devices eight years ago, see 47 U. S. C. § 302a(d).
Nonetheless, the Court faults Congress for providing "no empirical evidence to support the assumption that the prohibition against disclosures reduces the number of illegal interceptions," ante, at 530-531, and insists that "there is no basis for assuming that imposing sanctions upon respondents will deter the unidentified scanner from continuing
The "quantum of empirical evidence needed to satisfy heightened judicial scrutiny of legislative judgments will vary up or down with the novelty and plausibility of the justification raised." Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U.S. 377, 391 (2000). "[C]ourts must accord substantial deference to the predictive judgments of Congress." Turner Broadcasting, 512 U. S., at 665 (citing Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee, 412 U.S. 94, 103 (1973)). This deference recognizes that, as an institution, Congress is far better equipped than the judiciary to evaluate the vast amounts of data bearing upon complex issues and that "[s]ound policy making often requires legislators to forecast future events and to anticipate the likely impact of these events based on deductions and inferences for which complete empirical support may be unavailable." Turner Broadcasting, 512 U. S., at 665. Although we must nonetheless independently evaluate such congressional findings in performing our constitutional review, this "is not a license to reweigh the evidence de novo, or to replace Congress' factual predictions with our own." Id., at 666.
The "dry-up-the-market" theory, which posits that it is possible to deter an illegal act that is difficult to police by preventing the wrongdoer from enjoying the fruits of the crime, is neither novel nor implausible. It is a time-tested theory that under girds numerous laws, such as the prohibition of the knowing possession of stolen goods. See 2 W. Lafave & A. Scott, Substantive Criminal Law § 8.10(a), p. 422 (1986) ("Without such receivers, theft ceases to be profitable. It is obvious that the receiver must be a principal target of any society anxious to stamp out theft in its various forms"). We ourselves adopted the exclusionary
The same logic applies here and demonstrates that the incidental restriction on alleged First Amendment freedoms is no greater than essential to further the interest of protecting the privacy of individual communications. Were there no prohibition on disclosure, an unlawful eavesdropper who wanted to disclose the conversation could anonymously launder the interception through a third party and thereby avoid detection. Indeed, demand for illegally obtained private information would only increase if it could be disclosed without repercussion. The law against interceptions, which the Court agrees is valid, would be utterly ineffectual without these anti disclosure provisions.
For a similar reason, we upheld against First Amendment challenge a law prohibiting the distribution of child pornography. See New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982). Just as with unlawfully intercepted electronic communications, we there noted the difficulty of policing the "low-profile, clandestine industry" of child pornography production and concurred with 36 legislatures that "[t]he most expeditious if not the only practical method of law enforcement may be to dry up the market for this material by imposing severe criminal penalties on persons selling, advertising, or otherwise promoting the product." Id., at 760. In so doing, we did not demand, nor did Congress provide, any empirical
At base, the Court's decision to hold these statutes unconstitutional rests upon nothing more than the bald substitution of its own prognostications in place of the reasoned judgment of 41 legislative bodies and the United States Congress.
These statutes also protect the important interests of deterring clandestine invasions of privacy and preventing the involuntary broadcast of private communications. Over a century ago, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis recognized that "[t]he intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual." The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193, 196 (1890). "There is necessarily, and within suitably defined areas, a . . . freedom not to speak publicly, one which serves the same ultimate end as freedom of speech in its affirmative aspect." Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 559 (1985) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). One who speaks into a phone "is surely entitled to assume that the words he utters into the mouthpiece will not be broadcast to the world." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 352 (1967); cf. Gelbard v. United States, 408 U.S. 41, 52 (1972) (compelling testimony about matters obtained from an illegal interception at a grand jury proceeding "compounds the statutorily proscribed invasion of . . . privacy by adding to the injury of the interception the insult of . . . disclosure").
These statutes undeniably protect this venerable right of privacy. Concomitantly, they further the First Amendment rights of the parties to the conversation. "At the heart of the First Amendment lies the principle that each person should decide for himself or herself the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression, consideration, and adherence." Turner Broadcasting, 512 U. S., at 641. By "protecting the privacy of individual thought and expression," United States
Although the Court recognizes and even extols the virtues of this right to privacy, see ante, at 532-533, these are "mere words," W. Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, act v, sc. 3, overridden by the Court's newfound right to publish unlawfully acquired information of "public concern," ante, at 525. The Court concludes that the private conversation between Gloria Bartnicki and Anthony Kane is somehow a "debate . . . . worthy of constitutional protection." Ante, at 535. Perhaps the Court is correct that "[i]f the statements about the labor negotiations had been made in a public arena—during a bargaining session, for example— they would have been newsworthy." Ante, at 525. The point, however, is that Bartnicki and Kane had no intention of contributing to a public "debate" at all, and it is perverse to hold that another's unlawful interception and knowing disclosure of their conversation is speech "worthy of constitutional protection." Cf. Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., 515 U.S. 557, 573 (1995) ("[O]ne important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide `what not to say' "). The Constitution should not protect the involuntary broadcast of personal conversations. Even where the communications involve public figures or
The Court's decision to hold inviolable our right to broadcast conversations of "public importance" enjoys little support in our precedents. As discussed above, given the qualified nature of their holdings, the Daily Mail cases cannot bear the weight the Court places upon them. More mystifying still is the Court's reliance upon the "Pentagon Papers" case, New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) (per curiam), which involved the United States' attempt to prevent the publication of Defense Department documents relating to the Vietnam War. In addition to involving Government controlled information, that case fell squarely under our precedents holding that prior restraints on speech bear "`a heavy presumption against . . . constitutionality.' " Id., at 714. Indeed, it was this presumption that caused Justices Stewart and White to join the 6-to-3 per curiam decision. See id., at 730-731 (White, J., joined by Stewart, J., concurring) ("I concur in today's judgments, but only because of the concededly extraordinary protection against prior restraints enjoyed by the press under our constitutional system"). By no stretch of the imagination can the statutes at issue here be dubbed "prior restraints." And the Court's "parallel reasoning" from other in apposite cases fails to persuade. Ante, at 535.
Surely "the interest in individual privacy," ante, at 518, at its narrowest, must embrace the right to be free from surreptitious eavesdropping on, and involuntary broadcast of, our cellular telephone conversations. The Court subordinates that right, not to the claims of those who themselves wish to speak, but to the claims of those who wish to
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Steven Shapiro; for Dow Jones & Co., Inc., by Theodore B. Olson, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., and Jack M. Weiss; for the Liberty Project by Nory Miller and Julia M. Carpenter; for Media Entities and Organizations by Floyd Abrams, George Freeman, Adam Liptak, Richard A. Bernstein, Jerry S. Birenz, Henry S. Hoberman, David A. Schulz, Eve Burton, Susanna M. Lowy, Harold W. Fuson, Jr., Barbara W. Wall, Anne Noble, Kenneth Vittor, René P. Milam, Lucy Dalglish, Bruce W. Sanford, and Eric Lieberman; for WFAA—TV et al. by Laurence H. Tribe, Jonathan S. Massey, William D. Sims, Jr., Thomas S. Leatherbury, and Marie R. Yeates; and for Representative James A. McDermott by Frank Cicero, Jr., Christopher Landau, and Daryl Joseffer.
"(a) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication; . . . shall be punished . . . ."
The Government also points to two other areas of the law—namely, mail theft and stolen property—in which a ban on the receipt or possession of an item is used to deter some primary illegality. Brief for United States 14; see also post, at 550-551 (Rehnquist, C. J.,dissenting). Neither of those examples, though, involve prohibitions on speech. As such, they are not relevant to a First Amendment analysis.