Criminal Law on Recording Devices in America

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    Consent of One Individual

    • By both federal and state laws, it's illegal to record any conversation you're not a part of. This makes wiretapping illegal unless the person wearing the wire is involved in the conversation. In 38 states, you can record a telephone conversation if you're one of the participants, without letting the other party know that you're doing it. Arizona will allow a homeowner to tape a call on a telephone in his name, in his residence, without contributing to the conversation.

    Consent of All Individuals

    • In 12 states, everyone involved in an audio-recorded conversation has to know what's happening: Washington, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, Illinois, Nevada, Maryland, Montana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Connecticut. Although Illinois is technically a state that requires the consent of all individuals, its Supreme Court and its appellate court have made exceptions for homeowners and businesses. The state seems to hold to the all-party rule only where law enforcement is concerned. Pennsylvania makes an exception if a crime is being committed or someone's life is in danger. Even though federal law dictates that only one party has to know a conversation is being recorded, and that can be the person doing the recording, individual states can override this.

    Video Recordings

    • Nearly half of America 24 states prohibits the use of hidden cameras in non-public places. These laws are largely part of restrictions on pornography.

    Law Enforcement Recordings

    • If a police officer pulls you over and you believe a device in his patrol car is recording the incident, you have the right in most states to request a copy of the recording. If you want to record the incident yourself, you might be limited to just video, depending on where you live and the laws there. If you interfere with the police officer doing his job in any way while you're trying to record, you can open yourself to a criminal charge unrelated to the recording.


    • If you're in possession of a recording that doesn't meet the law in your jurisdiction, you can't share it with anyone. There are no exceptions. You can't use it in court, and you can't share it with your best friend. If you do, you're breaking the law.

      Some states make exceptions for business landlines if the recording is for business purposes. This might include your employer putting a device on your extension to monitor your phone calls.

      Indian reservations and federal land within a state adhere to the federal law that only one party has to know a conversation is recorded. These areas are exempt from state law.

      Some states make exceptions for recordings that take place in a public location, such as a restaurant or a political rally. Anyone who speaks at a public gathering runs the risk of being overheard by others, so there's no confidentiality in the first place. Public speakers are conversing with the group and on the record.

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