Thursday, September 20th 2018

Eavesdropping: What Are Your Rights?

Eavesdropping may sound like harmless fodder for Jane Austen novels and nosy neighbors. However, recording conversations can be considered an invasion of privacy—and not just conversations where the participants don’t know they’re being recorded. This can be an issue for journalists, law enforcement, politicians and even businesspeople.

In an age when anyone can easily record at a moment’s notice on a cell phone, digital camera or other mobile device, eavesdropping legislation has come under review. Federal law prohibits recording private wireless phone calls without consent. Thirty-eight states require only one-party consent during in-person conversations and phone calls; that is, if you are part of the conversation, you don’t have to tell the other person you’re recording it. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington require the consent of everyone in the conversation to legally record.

However, the Illinois Eavesdropping Act is being challenged by the ACLU after felony charges were filed against people filming police officers making an arrest in a public place. Prosecutors said it violated the law because the police did not consent to being recorded. The Illinois law is one of the most extensive, applying even to conversations in a public area that anyone would be able to hear normally without the consent of all parties. Representatives for the police say the law protects officers from being afraid to do their job. The ACLU says it’s a double standard—police record people they pull over all the time, why shouldn’t citizens be able to record the encounter to ensure their rights are protected?

Hidden cameras with audio or the use of wiretapping (to record a conversation that you are not privy to), though, is generally illegal without a court order. Even taping under a one-party consent law will get you in trouble if it’s used to “further a criminal or tortious purpose,” such as blackmail. If you are taping a private conversation for journalistic purposes or otherwise, be sure to include the consent on the recording to cover your bases.

What do you think about the disparity in consent laws? Should police officers be subject to the same scrutiny as those they arrest?

Posted by Nancy on January 26, 2011 at 3:26pm.

One Response to “Eavesdropping: What Are Your Rights?”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rachel Lawrence, LegalFish. LegalFish said: Eavesdropping: What Are Your Rights? #Legal_News #eavesdropping [...]

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