Legal Guide

The Law of Talk: The Regulations on Recording Phone Conversations

There can be some aspects of federal laws where too little information or just plain ignorance of what you can and can’t do, could prove to be a problem.

Recording phone conversations is a prime example of how you could land yourself in hot water or find yourself exposed to a situation that could have been avoided, if only you had a greater knowledge of the privacy laws.

Here is an overview of the fundamental federal laws that cover recording of phone calls. There is a look at some high-profile recent examples of private conversations entering the public domain, plus details of why location matters in more ways than one.

A very public legal storm

If you are going to record a telephone conversation for whatever reason, you might as well use a good call recorder, and you can get it on Google Play. It is not clear what device Kanye West used when confronting Taylor Swift, but the infamous telephone clip is now very much in the public domain.

Kanye West decided to post the clip of a conversation with Taylor Swift as a way of proving that the singer gave her approval to the use of some colorful lyrics in the appropriately-named track “Famous”.

Whether you are in the Kanye or Taylor corner on the argument itself, the key point it raised is whether Kanye West was entitled to secretly record that infamous conversation without Taylor Swift’s knowledge?

In general terms, U.S federal law might only require one party in the conversation to give their consent to the recording taking place, but the caveat to be aware of is the fact that the law on this topic varies between states, so it might be ok to do in one place, but elsewhere, both parties need to be in agreement about the call being recorded.

Location matters

Kanye West has a residence in California and if he was in his mansion there when he called Taylor Swift, he could be facing problems, because this is one of the states where two-party consent is required.

Whether it is a very public celebrity spat that could eventually turn into a civil court case to settle their differences, or whether it is two ordinary people who are wanting to protect their interests by recording a telephone call, location is one thing that definitely matters.

When two laws collide

Where things get really complicated and might require a legal brain to resolve, is when a call is made from a location where one-party consent is the law, to a person who resides in a state where two-person consent is required.

The obvious question here is who takes precedence when it comes to observing the federal law on recording a telephone conversation?

There was a case in 2006 that attempted to answer that difficult question. It came down in favor of all-party consent because of the need to protect the privacy of everyone involved, but it still seems that each case might need to be treated on its own merit.

Public interest

The topic of the conversation could also come into play and whether what is being said is in the public interest.

It seems that recording telephone conversations is a gray area, but provided it is done in one of the 38 one-party states, it has got more chance of being accepted as ok to do, only if it is in a public area.

Recording a conversation in anywhere more private or in a state where two-party consent is needed and you could be looking at a Kanye West and Taylor Swift scenario.

Eliza Williams is a law student who shares some of her knowledge online in the form of articles when time allows. Keen to learn, absorb knowledge and also share, her useful articles appear on a wide range of websites and blogs.

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