"Can We Tape?"

I usually carry a digital voice recorder with me.  In most states it’s legal to record a conversation if all parties consent, although Pennsylvania law requires that all parties to a conversation be notified that a conversation is being recorded. “It is always legal to tape or film a face-to-face interview when your recorder or camera is in plain view” (RCFP, “Consent and Its Limits”). When I worked for a radio station, the first thing I would say after pushing the record button was, “The tape is rolling. I’m speaking to [so-and-so] for a story on [topic].”  If the person kept talking, the assumption is the subject consented to the interview.

It is a felony of the third degree to intentionally intercept, endeavor to intercept, or get any other person to intercept any wire, electronic, or oral communication without the consent of all the parties. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5703(1).

The statute is set to expire in December 2008, but could be amended and remain on the books. [Note — it still seems to be on the books. –DGJ]  Under the current statutory language, consent of all parties is required to tape a conversation. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5704. Consent is not required of any parties if the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their non-electronic communication. See definition of “oral communication,” 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5702.

Anyone whose communication has been unlawfully intercepted can recover actual damages in the amount of $100 per day of violation or $1,000, whichever is greater, and also can recover punitive damages litigation costs, and attorney fees. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5725.

A person commits a misdemeanor if he views, photographs or films another person in a state of full or partial nudity without consent, under circumstances where the nude person has an expectation of privacy. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7507.1.  –Reporters Committee on the Freedom of the Press, “Pennsylvania

What are the laws about recording interviews where you live? (Here’s a list that outlines the recording laws for each US state. Wikipedia has an article on “Wiretapping.”)

See also “Photographer’s Rights,” and this:

The law in the United States of America is pretty simple. You are allowed to photograph anything with the following exceptions:

• Certain military installations or operations.

• People who have a reasonable expectation of privacy. That is, people who are some place that’s not easily visible to the general public, e.g., if you shoot through someone’s window with a telephoto lens.

That’s it.

You can shoot pictures of children; your rights don’t change because of their age or where they are, as long as they’re visible from a place that’s open to the public. (So no sneaking into schools or climbing fences.)

Video taping has some more gray areas because of copyright issues, but in general the same rules apply. If anyone can see it, you can shoot it.

And yes, you can shoot on private property if it’s open to the public. That includes malls, retails stores, Starbucks, banks, and office-building lobbies. If you’re asked to stop and refuse, you run the risk of being charged with trespassing, but your pictures are yours. No one can legally take your camera or your memory card without a court order.

You can also shoot in subways and at airports. Check your local laws about the subway, but in New York, Washington, and San Francisco it’s perfectly legal. Airport security is regulated by the Transportation Security Administration, and it’s quite clear: Photography is A-OK at any commercial airport in the U.S. as long as you’re in an area open to the public.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. —Andrew Kantor

3 thoughts on “"Can We Tape?"

  1. You’re right, it also matters what you plan to do with the photo. I can snap a picture of a stranger walking down a public street, but I can’t use that person’s face in an advertisement (for example) without the person’s consent. But I mostly wrote this with journalistic and personal uses in mind.

  2. I think it’s important to point out that how you can use media sometimes also depends what the audio/photo/video will be used for. I say this as I take a break from writing my thesis… The main part of my research is the video footage I shot at a university writing center. Not only did my study have to pass an Institutional Review Board (IRB) but I also had to have written consent from each person I taped. I have to have those on file (and keep the original footage) for a set period of time after my study is completed.
    This is clearly not what the typical Joe and Joanna Anybody are using their audio/photo/video for (I could be wrong), but it’s worth mentioning because in the the digital age I think many people do think that _anything_ can be recorded, without limits just because technology enables us to do so. It’s frightening, really, because we’re allowing the means to justify the end, in that sense.
    Anyway, just one perspective from the peanut gallery of grad students doing field research. :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *