Private Investigator Tips: Is it Legal to Record a Phone Call or Conversation?

Private Investigator Tips: Is it Legal to Record a Phone Call or Conversation?
206 SHARES

We are frequently asked if it is legal to record a phone call or conversation. The answer is not as simple as you may think.

There are various state and federal statutes that apply to the legality of recording a conversation. The information below is by no means comprehensive. If you are contemplating recording a phone call or conversation, you should seek advice from a legal professional.

The Basics: “One-Party Consent” vs. “Two-Party Consent”

The District of Columbia and 39 states are one-party consent, and 11 states are two-party consent (see table below). A one-party consent state permits individuals to record conversations to which they are a party without informing the other parties that they are doing so. In other words, one-party states allow recording of phone calls with the consent of only one of the parties to the conversation.

Based on the name, you would think that a two-party state would require consent of two parties; however, under most circumstances, all of the parties must provide consent.

Where One-Party Notification Is Required

Alabama Louisiana Oregon
Alaska Maine Ohio
Arizona Minnesota Rhode Island
Arkansas Mississippi South Carolina
Colorado Missouri South Dakota
District of Columbia Nebraska Tennessee
Georgia Nevada Texas
Hawaii New Jeresey Utah
Idaho New Mexico Vermont
Indiana New York Virginia
Iowa North Carolina West Virginia
Kansas North Dakota Wisconsin
Kentucky Oklahoma Wyoming

Where Two-Party Notification is Required 

California Illinois Montana
Connecticut Massachusetts New Hampshire
Delaware Maryland Pennsylvania
Florida Michigan Washington

In-Person Conversation vs. Phone Call Recording

This information generally applies to recording a conversation in person. If you are in a one-party state and need to record a conversation in person with another person, you must follow the applicable laws of the state that you are in. Likewise with a two-party state.

(If you are looking for a digital voice recorder [affiliate link], Amazon has number of high quality voice recorders starting at around $25.)

However, what if you are recording a phone conversation taking place between two different states that have two different consent requirements? For example, if you are making a phone call from New York (a one-party state) to California (a two-party state), what do you do?

The general rule of thumb is that you should abide by the law of the state with the most strict statute, which in this case would be California.

(If you want to record a conversation through your computer, Pamela for Skype [affiliate link] is a great tool that we have been using for years with great success.)

Other Things to Know

Generally, it is almost always illegal to record a phone call or conversation to which you are not a party. Every state except Vermont has criminal penalties for unlawful recording.

Final Thought

Whether it is legal to record a phone call or conversation is more complicated than you may think.

We hope this information will serve as a general guide, and is not intended to substitute for expert legal counsel. It is always best to talk with an attorney if you have questions about the legal implications of recording calls in your state. 

Additional Resources:

Comments

  1. Clair says

    Thanks for the article, very nice work. Do you know in a 2-party state, FL, if someone calls for someone else and you ask something like, who’s calling?, then they typically give you some incomplete name like “Tom” and no other info, and quickly jam in – “this call may be recorded for quality assurance”, then you answer something to the effect of “NO CONSENT” or in this case ‘we don’t accept recorded calls’ and hang up, my question is whether since the brief ‘we don’t accept recorded calls’ is a legal recording in itself. Whatever the answer, I suppose it is better just to say nothing and hang up, but I would like to know about this finer point. I do not know who is calling since they don’t identify themselves properly.

  2. Viger Vay says

    I am in Michigan and have cell phone recordings of conversations with my former Landlord regarding his verbal consent allowing me to move out four days into a new month without having to pay rent for that month. He’s now saying I owe for that month and is decided not to return the security deposit because of back rent owed.

    If I go to small claims, can I use the phone recordings as proof that he indicated that no rent would be due for that month?

      • Mich Native says

        Double check. If you are in Michigan and record a conversation that you are involved in, you have a right to record it. Confusion arises in the court’s definition of “eavesdropping” Both party consent is required if you are the third party recording a conversation of which you do NOT take part. Tenant, talk with a lawyer and do some more research but you may be able to use this in court.

  3. keena says

    I recorded a meeting in which I was IN were I knew my boss was going to yell and curse at me in front of all of my fellow employees. Which she did. I want to take my recording to my corporate office. Is this legal. I live in CO.

  4. James says

    I am trying to get custody of my daughter and i want to record my phone conversations with my daughters mother and family to possibly use in court. Is this legal, i live in Minnesota and my daughter lives in Iowa.

  5. Brett C says

    Greetings Brian Willingham,
    If someone in a two part state does not consent to the recording, do you have to legally stop recording the call and vise versa?

  6. Ashley says

    I live in CO and recorded a phone conversation I had with my landlord. She did not know. Could I use this in court??

  7. Joe says

    If you suspect you are being recorded and ask about it. Does the recording party have to reveal that they are recording? In a one party state.

    • Brian Willingham says

      I don’t think there is any particular law about that, although I don’t know for sure.

  8. Sammy says

    Can a person who you would consider a “friend” come in to your private home and record a conversation (Ohio is the state) and use that conversation to sue her previous employer because you are still employed there? This caused embarrassment, anxiety and my boss looks at me differently because of it. What rights do I have against her? Does this constitute a “reasonable right to privacy”?

    • Brian Willingham says

      As long as your “friend” was a party to the conversation, it is perfectly legal in Ohio.

  9. Jenna says

    If I am in a “2 party” state, but the person I am talking to is in a “1 party” state, which rules apply?

    • Brian Willingham says

      The general rule of thumb is that you should abide by the law of the state with the most strict statute, which in this case is the two-party state.

  10. Bob Smith says

    Can a company in Maryland record a conversation on the phone between employee to employee on the intercom. And can the company also record the phone conversation between employee and the client without the knowledge of both party. Only the owner of the company is aware of the recording on the phone system.

    • Brian Willingham says

      In Maryland, all parties of a conversation must be aware of the conversation in order to legally record it.

    • Bob Smith says

      thank you for your reply …… I also have this question ….can a company tape record a conversation without the employees or the clients knowledge and use an excuse that is doing a recording for training purposes?