Illegally Recording Private Conversations
Lately I have ran across numerous situations involving the illegal recording of private conversations and thought I would highlight the legalities and pitfalls involved. With the mass availability of devices (cell phones, mini-recorders, laptops, watches, i-pads) that can surreptitiously record telephone and face to face conversations there is now an increased temptation by many individuals to do so. However, without researching the legalities of such actions, this could result in being criminally prosecuted for a felony offense or having a civil lawsuit filed against you. It would behoove you to be familiar with Federal and state wiretapping laws before engaging in any such activity.
In general, Federal law requires at a minimum that one party consent to recording telephone and in-person conversations as long as the other party has full knowledge that the communication will be recorded. Laws vary from state to state, but the majority of states also have this same requirement. Additionally, Federal and most state laws make it illegal to disclose the contents of an illegally recorded conversation to any outside parties. Eleven states requires that everyone involved in the conversation to give consent. Does this mean all parties have to have their consent recorded in order for it to be legal? No, in some states it is enough that they are informed and know that you are recording and voluntarily proceed with the conversation anyway.
Where consent is not required
Some situations where consent is not required is at public gathering, speeches, or events where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. What about recording police in the performance of their duties? A lot of media attention has focused on this topic as of late. Generally speaking, case law has established that you may record police officers in public settings as long as you are not interfering with an arrest, trespassing onto government or private property, not interfering with an official activity, and are following legitimate orders or instructions of an appointed official.
The bottom line is this: failure to provide notification or obtain consent, or the failure to adhere to the above guidelines regarding recording police and public officials could result in felony charges or monetary damages being awarded against you in a civil suit. Make sure you know what the legal requirements are both Federal and for the state you are located in order to prevent any additional unwanted consequences like loss of a security clearance or termination from employment.