July 21, 2020 Top Story

Applying a 40-year-old Statute to the Modern World

Class action claims under wiretap statute survive dismissal motion

By Mark A. Flores

A statute passed more than 40 years ago, meant to address privacy in the age of telephones, faced a modern-day test in Popa v. Harriet Cartier Gifts, Inc. In allowing the plaintiffs’ class action claims under the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act of 1978 to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania also considered the propriety of the putative class and gave the parties insight into how they should conduct discovery moving forward.

The plaintiff claimed her data was illegally collected while shopping online

The plaintiff claimed her data was illegally collected while shopping online

Credit: Ponomariova_Maria | iStockphoto by Getty Images

Pennsylvania’s wiretap statute prohibits the interception of electronic communications by “[a]ny telephone or telegraph instrument, equipment or facility, or any component thereof.” It makes no express mention of the internet or computers. That said, the district court recognized the broad definition could include these devices in considering this latest claim.

An individual alleged that certain companies illegally collected her personal data while she engaged in online shopping for pet products despite the fact that she had never made a purchase. She brought claims on her own behalf and as a class representative for violation of Pennsylvania’s wiretap statute and for invasion of privacy/intrusion upon seclusion in the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.

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