Recording a Conversation without Consent: Is it Legal?

August 6, 2019

Recording a Conversation without Consent: Is it Legal?

There are all kinds of reasons people contemplate recording a conversation – even when they’re not involved in it. The question isn’t just about wiretapping or phone calls of any type. It also includes using any kind of recording device in person. The bottom line comes down to consent. Is it necessary?

Truth be told, people record conversations for a variety of reasons. It’s a common event in divorce cases – especially when there are suspicions of infidelity. Meanwhile, just about everyone knows that law enforcement authorities need warrants to secure permission to set up wiretapping devices.

However, the issue extends further. For example, in another state, an Uber driver came under fire for secretly recording passengers. In Pennsylvania, the legality of the recording could be questionable.

Here’s what you need to know about recording a conversation. Pennsylvania law takes privacy concerns quite seriously. Both parties involved in a conversation must consent to its recording. The short answer about the legality of the action is that the Keystone State requires two-party consent.

The same isn’t true in neighboring New Jersey or even federal law. Only one participant in a conversation needs to consent to the recording.

Meanwhile, you could view the issue of recording conversations without consent from a few vantage points. First, what happens if you’re the one who failed to notify the other party of your intent to record your conversation?  Can you potentially face criminal charges?

Next, what happens if someone attempts to use an illegally obtained recording against you? Can it be used as evidence?

Charges for Recording a Conversation without Consent

Pennsylvania’s “Wiretapping and Surveillance Control Act” begins at 18 Pa.C.S. §5701.  Meanwhile, interception of a call remains only one part of the issue. 

If you “intentionally disclose …. the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication,” you could also find yourself in trouble with the law.

Use our example of the Uber driver mentioned above. If you watch the videotape of the news report, you’ll learn how the recordings were used for in this case. 

It seems a collection of secretly taped conversations were put together to make a show. All things considered, it sounds a bit like the Taxicab Confessions TV series that started in 1995.

Would this be legal in Pennsylvania? It’s certainly a matter for concern. If you’re providing a ridesharing service, you may want to set up a dashcam for your own safety. At the very least, you should put up a placard indicating that you’re recording the event. However, that still doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve obtained consent to record any conversations in your vehicle.

In the meantime, the whole issue of two-party consent extends further. You should know that the penalties associated with illegally recording conversations are severe. The prospect of going to jail makes this an offense that warrants seeking the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Non-Consensual Recordings Used as Evidence

When you are facing criminal charges against you, your lawyer will look into every aspect of your case in preparing your defense. This could include determining whether the evidence introduced by the prosecution was obtained legally.

Once again, Pennsylvania requires two-party consent. Law enforcement authorities must also follow particular guidelines when it comes to wiretapping and surveillance.

Think about it. What if you made an admission on a recording that could lead to an inference of guilt? No doubt that sounds like something you’d love to disappear.

However, if your attorney can prove the recording was obtained illegally, it cannot be used as evidence. This could prove critical to the defense of your case.

Contact Us

Do you have questions regarding Pennsylvania laws and recording conversations?  At Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano, we can give you the answers and legal advice you need. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

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