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Is It Legal to Secretly Record a Phone Conversation?

Categories: Criminal Law & Process

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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

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

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

States Where Just One Party Need Consent

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
This information has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information may constitute attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Reading of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Prior results do not guarantee similar future outcomes. Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP is a Texas LLP with headquarters in Dallas. Mr. Oberheiden limits his practice to federal law.