There may be plenty of reasons why you might want to record a phone call, from making sure that you don’t forget the directions that someone gave you to trying to get evidence on a phone scammer. It can be really useful to make these recordings, but is it legal? Are you putting yourself on the line if you hit the record button? The laws aren’t always clear, but here’s what you need to know.
I’ll go over the laws in a few specific countries, as the rules vary depending on where you live. Even though I’ve done some research to come up with these summaries, it’s best to check your local laws for specific regulations. And if you’re planning on using the recording for a legal purpose, you should get legal counsel first.
The situation in the United States is complicated by the fact that both federal and state wiretapping laws apply to recording phone calls. Federal law allows recording of phone calls as long as one party (including you, if you’re doing the recording) is aware of the recording. However, there are some states in which both parties need to be aware at the beginning of the call that it will be recorded.
According to the Digital Media Law Project (DMLP), the states that require consent from both parties are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington, although the laws in Illinois and Massachusetts might be open to interpretation.
They also recommend getting consent from both parties if those parties are in different states. And, of course, these “two-party consent” states also require consent from additional people if there are more than two people present in the conversation.
If you’re looking for specific information on your state, DMLP has a helpful list of wiretapping-related statutes in a number of states that you can reference.
Like federal law in the US, Canadian law states that phone conversations may be recorded as long as one person has given consent to the recording. Organizations, however, are subject to different rules under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which states that the individual being recorded must be notified by the organization doing the recording.
The organization must also provide a reason for the recording (such “training” or “quality assurance”), and allow the individual an alternative method of communication, such as a phone call that’s not taped, in-person communication, or email.
While third-party recording is illegal, consent need only be gathered from one participant if the recording will be for personal use, but two-party consent might be needed if information from the call will be provided to a third party. “Third party,” according to one expert interviewed by the BBC, could even apply to a cloud storage provider used for storing the call data.
Businesses are allowed to record phone calls for specific reasons, such as ensuring that the business complies with regulations, preventing or detecting crime, or making a record of a business transaction — though the participants must be informed. Organizations may also monitor communications to determine whether they’re relevant to the business.
Interestingly, call recording is actually required by law in some cases, such as when taking client orders in the financial industry.
Unlike the UK, call recording laws are very simple in India: you can’t do it without a court order. It’s just illegal. And the only way you’re going to get a court order is if there’s a major national security issue at stake.
If you’re looking to record calls in India, you’re out of luck.
Phone-recording laws in Australia vary by state, so it’s worth checking in your state to see if the listening devices laws will prevent you from recording the call. However, in general, you can record a call as long as both of the parties are aware of the recording. Note the word “aware” — it doesn’t require consent, just knowledge, which is different from most other countries.
Another point to be aware of is that you cannot intercept conversations passing over a telecommunications line, which means that your recording device can’t be present within the device making the call. If you record the sounds from a speakerphone, or use your computer to record a call that you’ve placed through VoIP, you’re fine, as the sound is already accessible to the listener (if you’re a party in the conversation).
In some states, you can record without consent. In others, you need two-party consent. Again, if you want to record a call, make sure to check out the laws in your state — Australia’s legislation on this matter is quite complicated. To get started, check out this list of state listening device laws.
Be Sure to Double-Check
Every country has its own idiosyncratic laws for phone-call recording. In addition to differing rules on whether it’s legal to record at all, how many people have to be informed, and what kinds of devices are allowed to be used for recording, certain countries may prohibit those recordings from being used in a court of law or transferred to a third party.
Despite the research done to create the summaries for the countries above, it’s still a good idea to check with your local authority no matter where you live. In general, if you’re recording for personal purposes only and both parties have consented, you shouldn’t have any trouble. If you’re recording without consent of one party, you should definitely check your local laws. And you can assume that recording without the consent of both parties is illegal.
And remember — if you get called by a phone scammer, it’s best to just hang up.
What do you know about the recording laws in your country? Can you shine any light on what you can and can’t record? Have you used call recording for your benefit in the past? Share your thoughts and experiences below!
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