Pennsylvania Audio Recording Laws
With the ubiquitous IPhone in our lives, it is easy to use voice recording software to surreptitiously capture conversations. In Pennsylvania, however, this can constitute a violation of our Wiretapping Law.
Pennsylvania is a two-party consent state for recordings of telephone and other oral communication. In contrast, New Jersey is a one-party consent state.
Pennsylvania is one of thirteen states that have a two-party consent law, which makes it illegal to secretly record a conversation without the consent of all parties. However, the law also contains several exceptions to the rule that make it legal for individuals to record conversations in certain circumstances.
One of the most common exceptions to this law involves recording police and other law enforcement officers performing their duties in public. In addition, some courts have made specific rules regarding the use of recording devices in courtrooms at the trial and appellate court level.
In particular, many judges have ruled that it is legal for law enforcement officials to record their interactions with a suspect if the suspect grants permission. Similarly, some courts have ruled that recordings of meetings of governmental bodies that are required to be open to the public are permissible if all members of the governing body give their consent. (For more information on this topic see our Access to Government Information section).) Other courts have prohibited the use of recording devices in their courtrooms.
Two-Party Consent Law
Pennsylvania is one of thirteen two-party consent states, meaning that the participants in a conversation need to explicitly agree to the recording for it not to violate state law. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, filming police officers performing their duties in public is not a violation of the law. Filming a speech or protest also does not constitute a violation of the law.
Pennsylvania courts have applied the law in a slightly more lenient manner than some of its sister states. For example, when a woman called her sister in New York (a “one-party consent” state), who recorded the conversations without the wife’s knowledge for use in custody proceedings, Pennsylvania courts ruled that they couldn’t apply the criminal penalties and civil liability of PA’s wiretap law because of the conflicting laws of the jurisdictions involved.
Audio Recordings in Public Places
If a conversation is taking place in a public space and one or both of the parties to the discussion know it is being recorded, then the conversation can be recorded. However, it is still illegal to record conversations that are private and that do not involve the person or persons known by the person recording them.
In Pennsylvania, it is a felony to intercept any in-person or telephone communication without all parties’ consent. It is also a crime to disclose the contents of that communication or use images captured on an illegally-recorded device (see 18 Pa.C.S. SS 5703).
There are exceptions to this rule, such as when a municipal law enforcement agency or sheriff is conducting surveillance in the line of duty. But, it is best to check with the individual agency’s written guidelines before engaging in this type of monitoring. Security cameras may be used in locations that are required by law to be open to the public, such as meetings of a governmental body that is required to meet in public.
Audio Recordings in Private Places
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to record a private in-person conversation without the consent of all parties to that conversation. Additionally, anyone whose conversation is illegally recorded can seek compensation in a civil lawsuit for the greater of actual damages or $100 per day of violation, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.
It is also against state law to intercept a wire, electronic or oral communication or share its contents. Those who intercept or attempt to intercept such communications can be charged with a third degree felony.
The Lancaster County Career and Technology Center in West Lampeter Township, Pennsylvania, found this out the hard way when a student recorded two teachers and shared the video online. The teen is now facing felony charges, and the school is under scrutiny. It is now requiring all employees to adopt written policies on the use of hidden cameras and audio recordings. These policies must include training that complies with the requirements of Pennsylvania’s Wire Tap Act and Two-Party Consent Law.