Legality Of Tape Recording A Conversation?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

There are many situations in which recording a conversation with another person might be convenient. Reporters interviewing the subject of a news story might wish to record the session to ensure accuracy. A consumer embroiled in a dispute over a bill might decide to record a telephone conversation with the creditor’s representative to use if the matter goes to court. Depending upon the circumstances or the situation, recording an in-person or telephone conversation might be a good idea, but care must be taken not to violate the law.

<b>Laws Controlling the Recording of Conversations</b>

Most state legislatures have enacted laws governing the recording of conversations, but states differ on the procedures that must be followed in order to avoid violating the laws. Federal law also restricts the manner in which conversations are recorded.

Under federal law, at least one of the parties to a conversation must be aware that it is being recorded. This is also the law in a majority of the states and in the District of Columbia. A conversation between two people could be legally recorded by one of them because the person doing the recording is aware of it. The same holds true for conversations involving three or more people where the person recording the conversation counts as the consenting party.

A person engaged in a conversation with another individual might violate the law if a third party joins the conversation. As long as the person doing the recording is part of the conversation, it is permitted in those states and under federal law requiring only one-party consent. Problems arise when the party recording the conversation leaves, but the recording device continues to operate. Under those circumstances, the departure of the person with knowledge of the recording could make continued taping illegal.

<b>Multiple-Party Consent Rules</b>

States that do not follow the one-party consent rule have enacted laws making it unlawful to make a recording unless all parties to the conversation consent to it. If a new individual joins a conversation that is already in progress, that person must be informed of the taping and must consent.

<b>Effect of Court Decisions</b>

Care must be taken in states where the law requires the consent of only one party to a conversation for it to be legal. Courts have interpreted the laws in some one-party consent states to require the consent of all parties to a conversation. An example of this is the state of Nevada.

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