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Man Cleared in Keyboard-Wiretapping Case

November 29, 2004

LOS ANGELES — A man accused of planting a keystroke recording device on a workplace computer wasn’t violating federal wiretapping law, a judge has ruled.

Larry Lee Ropp, 46, was indicted in March on charges he installed such a device to obtain e-mails, passwords and other information from a computer used by the secretary to the vice president of an Anaheim, Calif.-based insurance company.

According to the indictment, he gave some documents relating to the company’s handling of claims to the California Department of Insurance, which was working with a private attorney who was drawing up a class-action lawsuit against the company, Bristol West Insurance Group/Coast National Insurance Co.

Ropp told the FBI he was operating as a whistleblower, though the Department of Insurance said it had never asked Ropp for any evidence he would not have been able to obtain in the normal course of business.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess dismissed the case last month, saying the wiretap law does not extend to the interception of electronic signals from a keyboard to a computer’s central processing unit.

Ropp did not intercept the messages as they traveled over the Internet and thus his actions, while a violation of privacy rights, did not amount to wiretapping, Feess wrote.

The government plans to appeal.




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