Is it legal to tape record a phone call without consent or permission?

There are complex issues of law that must be addressed before deciding whether recording a phone call is legal. At both the Federal and State level, there are specific laws that determine the permissibility of using electronic recording equipment.

It is absolutely essential to know your rights when recording audio and utilizing electronic recording equipment.

PLEASE NOTE: Illegally using audio recording equipment can give rise to criminal prosecution as well as civil suits by the injured party.

Most statues that govern these issues are primarily concerned with wiretapping and eavesdropping, however the statutes usually to electronic recordings of conversations as well, whether in-person or over the phone.

Federal Law: Federal statutes permit recording of phone calls and electronic communications with the consent of at least one party to the call. The majority of states have wiretapping statutes that are based on federal law and most have extended the state statutes to cover in-person conversations.

General Rule: It is nearly always illegal to record a conversation when you aren’t a party, don’t have consent to tape and could not naturally overhear the conversation.

One-Party Consent Statutes: Washington D.C. and thirty eight states allow the recording of conversations when the recorder is a party WITHOUT the recorder informing the other parties that they are being recorded. So in these states, as long as you are a party to the conversation, it is legal to record it. Nevada also has a one-party consent law, although the state Supreme Court has ruled it an all-party rule and therefore illegal.

All-Party Consent Statutes: Twelve states require, under most circumstances, the permission of every party to a conversation. These jurisdictions are the following: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. In these states you will need the consent of EVERY single party involved in the conversation before taping.

In addition to recording, Federal and most state laws forbid disclosing the contents of any illegal recorded call or communication.

Is it Legal to use Hidden Cameras?

Recording video with Hidden Cameras is almost always permissible however, at least twenty four states have statutes which forbid using hidden cameras in especially private places, for instance in places with nudity such as a bathroom.  Many of these laws forbid unattended hidden cameras placed in a location, not cameras hidden on a person. The audio portion of a hidden camera recording is treated like any audio recording and the laws mentioned above apply. In general, if you are recording using unattended hidden cameras in a private place, please use caution.


See the State by State guide: