Is It Legal to Secretly Record a Phone Conversation?
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Wiretaps, scanners, and other secret recording devices are a notorious feature of spy dramas and private detective lore. Today, however, state and federal law makers have addressed concerns that such recording methods invade individuals’ privacy by enacting laws that prohibit the use of recording devices unless one or all parties to the conversation consent to being recorded.
The Federal Law
Under federal law (18 U.S.C. 2511), recording a conversation is only legal if one of the parties to the conversation gives prior consent. Therefore, interception of conversations through scanners, switchboards or other devices is illegal, as is disclosing or using any information obtained through illegal means. Violation of the law is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a criminal fine, or both.
State laws vary as to whether they require one party or all parties to consent to a recording for the recording to be legal. Below is a breakdown of the laws by state:
States Where All Parties Must Consent
- New Hampshire
States Where Just One Party Need Consent
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Dr. Nick Oberheiden, founder of Oberheiden P.C., focuses his litigation practice on white-collar criminal defense, government investigations, SEC & FCPA enforcement, and commercial litigation.