Have You Ever Had a Disastrous Butt-Dial?

Illustration for article titled Have You Ever Had a Disastrous Butt-Dial?

A U.S. Appeals court just ruled that butt-dials (your phone calling a random contact due to, generally, contact with your butt) are not protected under federal wire-tapping law—which means that your inadvertent communications can be used against you.

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The case centered around a former Northern Kentucky airport board chairman who accidentally dialed the assistant of the CEO he went on to discuss firing. The assistant recorded the call, and the chairman took her to court for violating laws against wire-tapping. But the court decided that the responsibility lay with the caller: had he taken proper precautions to lock down his phone, the call wouldn’t have happened.

The Sixth Circuit court rejected Huff’s argument that he had a reasonable expectation to privacy, saying that he nullified that right by owning a device that could inadvertently expose his conversations to other parties.

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I’m on the fence about the ruling. While it’s smart smartphone practice to lock your phone, butt-dials still happen—maybe you don’t have an insta-lockdown or you triggered a call while using your phone for something else. It’s unnerving to think someone can then record whatever they hear without legal repercussion.

Illustration for article titled Have You Ever Had a Disastrous Butt-Dial?

On the other hand, I have to admit that as the recipient of butt-dials, I’ve stayed on the line for longer than I probably should have out of curiosity. I think it’s a human instinct when suddenly presented with an audio window into a place where you’re not. Usually all you can hear is a garbled mess of noise—the sound of a phone snuggled into a back butt pocket. I’ve also noticed that when I accidentally call people, the spans of those calls have lasted some minutes. What would you do if you heard compromising news about yourself or a friend?

Maybe the situation isn’t theoretical for you, but you’ve been there. Did your phone ever dial the wrong person at the wrong time, or were you the recipient of a butt-dial from hell?

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Illustration for article titled Have You Ever Had a Disastrous Butt-Dial?

Top image via everythingfunny.org

Degrees of butt dialing via meghanrocktopus.com

[Techaeris]

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DISCUSSION

I made a potentially bad butt-dial call not once, but three times in a row. I had gone for a job interview at around 9pm (it was an unusual company). This was several years ago and I had a clamshell style flip phone (Nokia 6102i IIRC). I put it into my pocket of my jeans and sat down for the interview. After about 20 minutes, I heard the phone ring. I ignored it because you don’t answer your phone during a job interview. When we got done, I looked at the phone and the caller ID just said “Emergency” with no callback number. Just then it rang again, so I answered. It was the Lewisville, TX 9-1-1 call center wanting to know if everything was all right. It turns out that I had butt dialed (side pocket dialed actually) 911 not once, but three times! I still had to tell them where I was at as they wanted to send a car anyway, but I talked them out of it. How this happened with a clamshell flip phone, I don’t know.