Prison phone companies Securus Technologies and Global Tel Link have allegedly recorded thousands of confidential phone calls between attorneys and their clients in prisons in at least nine states—and have let prosecutors listen to recordings of privileged attorney-client communications, VICE’s Motherboard reports.
Securus and GTL are private, for-profit companies that maintain what Motherboard calls “a virtual duopoly” over prison-telecommunications services in the U.S.
Securus has recorded more than 1,500 attorney calls from people in New York City jails as well as tens of thousands of phone calls between attorneys and their incarcerated clients in California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin, according to reports from Worth Rises and Motherboard’s analysis of court documents and local news articles.
GTL allegedly recorded phone calls with attorneys in Florida, California, and Maine, Motherboard reports.
Securus told Motherboard that it records all calls from correctional facilities unless the attorney’s phone number has been added to a “do-not-record” list. This system, the company said, has occasionally “resulted in the inadvertent recording of calls to unregistered attorney numbers.”
But attorneys and organizations monitoring the issue say the wrongful recording of attorney-client calls is widespread.
An internal audit that Securus conducted in New York revealed that more than 100 defense attorneys’ numbers were not put on the do-not-record list despite their requests. Attorneys in Maine, California, Texas, and Louisiana similarly report their requests have been denied or delayed—sometimes for over a year, according to Motherboard.
The recording of privileged phone calls is a “systemic practice” that has continued for years despite numerous lawsuits against Securus and GTL, Worth Rises Executive Director Bianca Tylek told Motherboard.
Securus has settled several lawsuits without admitting fault since a leak in 2015 revealed the company had recorded at least 57,000 privileged calls between attorneys and their clients.
“They settle these cases and move on,” Ms. Tylek said. “But they’ll do it again because their clients are the institutions who benefit from it: prisons, police, and prosecutors.”
Securus and GTL have built enormous databases of recorded calls from people in jails and prisons that they market to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, who frequently mine recorded phone calls to build cases against people being held pretrial in jails, Motherboard reports.
Even though the Sixth Amendment and the Federal Wiretap Act protect the confidentiality of attorney-client communications, Motherboard reports that in some cases recordings of privileged attorney-client calls have been given to prosecutors.
The phone surveillance system contributes to widespread racial disparities in the criminal legal system. The recording of attorney-client calls from jail doesn’t impact people who can afford to bail out pretrial, but it denies people who cannot afford bail—who are disproportionately low-income and Black—their right to consult a lawyer about their case without that conversation being handed over to prosecutors.