Texas Inmates Win Phone Privacy Victory, Legal Groups Say

Jail inmates in Travis County, Texas have secured phone privacy rights with their attorneys in what advocates say is a first-of-its-kind legal settlement in the country, the Texas Civil Rights Project and other legal organizations reported on March 15.  

The recent settlement requires officials and Securus Technologies, a vendor, to not record phone conversations involving inmates and their attorneys.

The Texas Civil Rights Project filed a federal lawsuit in 2014 after it was learned that phone conversations were recorded and that information was given to prosecutors, the organization said in a statement.

“The right to privileged conversations between attorneys and their clients is essential to the proper functioning of our justice system and our settlement will ensure that right is protected,” Abby Frank, a Texas Civil Rights Project attorney who worked on the case, said in a statement.

The settlement calls for prosecutors to immediately stop listening to recorded phone conversations between attorneys and their clients. It also requires prosecutors to inform attorneys that recorded phone conversations exist.

“This settlement is the first of its kind in the nation. Securus has telephone contracts with dozens of jails around the country,” Brian McGiverin, an Austin Lawyers Guild attorney who worked on the case, said in a statement.

“Travis County’s defense bar is leading the way in the fight to hold Securus accountable and protect the constitutional rights of people in jail, many of whom have not been convicted of any crime.”

At the Travis County Jail, the sheriff will post signs in four languages to inform inmates about the possibility of having their phone conversations recorded if they do not call a protected number for their attorneys.

Attorneys who work with inmates at the jail will be able to register their phone numbers on a special “do not record” list, which is designed to ensure privacy during conversations with clients.

In separate agreements, administrators for offices with prosecutors will be required to post the new policies on official websites.

In addition to the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Austin Lawyers Guild, the Prison Justice League, which supports the rights of inmates, and local defense attorneys worked on the case.

Legal settlements typically mean that the parties involved settled the case without it being considered in court. Travis County includes Austin, Texas. It is home to more than 1.1 million residents.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, which began in 1990, works with low- and moderate-income people and promotes social justice through litigation, education and social services.


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