PERSPECTIVES ON TELEPHONE MONITORING : The Mayor (and Staff ) Calling . . . : Having a secretary listen in isn't the problem; it's not telling the other party.

Erwin Chemerinsky is a professor of law at USC

What is really so objectionable about Mayor Richard Riordan having a secretary surreptitiously monitor his telephone conversations and take notes of them? The mayor makes and receives dozens of calls a day. If he promises to look into something or to take action, notes of the conversation are essential as a reminder. Especially when using a car phone, the mayor may not be in a position to take his own notes.

No one, however, is objecting to the mayor having a secretary listen in on the calls. Rather, the outrage is over his failure to disclose that someone else is listening.

A telephone conversation, unlike say a memo, has an expectation of privacy. This is why California law, like that in every state, prohibits the undisclosed electronic recording of a conversation. People might speak differently if they know that someone else is on the line or that a tape is being made. This may be a large part of why the mayor has not routinely disclosed to the other party that a secretary was listening.

Riordan's desire for written notes of conversations is understandable and laudable. But if he is going to do this by having someone else on the line, he should tell the other party to the conversation in advance.

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