Just because something is legal, does that mean you should do it? In the case of spying on your kids' phone activities, some say yes. Though the very same mode of operation is illegal in most states when the eavesdropper is your boss or anyone else and you're the "eavesdropee," this same mechanism is legal and encouraged for parents to their kids.
You're probably envisioning a parent listening in on their boy-crazy teen daughter's phone conversation. But it's more than that.
According to a nydailynews.com article, the Court of Appeals in New York ruled that secretly listening in on and even recording a cellphone conversation is legal-after a man recorded a cellphone conversation involving his five-year-old son. The child's mother's boyfriend, over the phone, threatened to beat him.
Dad acted in good faith when he wired the phone, and the slime who made the threat, was convicted on three counts. But his attorney claimed that the eavesdropping was illegal and thus, the conversation was not admissible.
The judge in this case pointed out that not all cases come in template form inside a black box. But can a parent eavesdrop on an older child who's cognizant enough to rationally protest? Again, we can't apply a cookie cutter to this concept. But in New York, it's legal to conduct this practice, with the assumption that the parent is acting in the best interest of the minor.
In another case, points out the article, a woman inserted a tape recorder in her autistic son's backpack to pick up the suspected verbal abuse from the boy's bus matron.
The line can be very fuzzy over just when it's ethical for a parent to tap a child's phone conversations and when it's done for more self-serving reasons, such as in divorce cases. Again, it's legal in New York, because it was determined that the potential benefits far outweigh the potential grievances.
At least 12 other states, though, are on board with this doctrine of vicarious consent, including New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Maine and the Carolinas. Hopefully, not too many parents will abuse this legal right and end up eavesdropping for the fun of it or to show off their "power" as the adult in charge.
But that fact is, kids can get into lots of trouble with their physical and digital lives if their parents are unaware of what's going on.