Let’s say you’re around a bunch of people saying some interesting things. You take out your cell phone and start the recording app to capture the conversations you’re overhearing. But then you wonder, ‘Is it illegal to record them?’
The answer: It depends on where you are and whether or not you’ve received permission to record the conversations of others.
What Law Prohibits Making Recordings of Conversations?
The law that says it’s illegal to record conversations is Florida Statutes § 934.03, Interception and Disclosure of Wire, Oral, or Electrical Communications. Making a recording isn’t the only thing prohibited by this law. You also cannot intentionally use or disclose the contents of a recording that you know was obtained by intercepting communications.
But what exactly does Florida mean by oral communication? Does that cover every conversation going on around you? Not exactly. Florida Statutes § 934.02, defines the terms used in the interception of oral communication law.
According to the statute:
- Oral communication is any utterance made by a person when they had an expectation that what they were saying wasn’t going to be recorded. However, if they’re speaking in public or at a public meeting, that speech isn’t protected under the law.
- Interception means to acquire oral communication through electronic, mechanical, or other means
- Electronic, mechanical, or another device includes anything that can be used to intercept oral communication
What Florida Statutes § 934.03 means is that if you are at a park and record the sounds around you, you’re not violating the law because you’re in a public place.
However, suppose you work for a clothing store and the management suspects one of the employees is stealing merchandise. They call you into an office to interview you and find out what you know about the alleged theft. If you secretly take your phone out and start recording what goes on in that meeting to warn your coworker, you’re committing an offense. That’s because you are now in a private office and the people questioning you most likely expect the conversation to stay between them.
If the people who interviewed you found out that you recorded them. They could report you to law enforcement, and you could be charged with a third-degree felony. The conviction penalties include up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Let’s look at the earlier situation with the meeting from a different angle. Say you’re called into the room, and before the others start questioning you, you ask for their permission to record the meeting. If they all agree, you can start the recording app on your cell phone. When consent is given, the expectation of privacy reduced, and the conduct may no longer be an offense.
Is Recording Oral Communication Always a Felony?
In some instances, if you secretly record private conversations with others, you could be charged with a misdemeanor. The law says that this level of offense is charged when it’s the first offense and the recording is not done for “tortious or illegal purposes.”
Depending on the type of device used to make the recording, the offense is either a first- or second-degree misdemeanor. For a first-degree misdemeanor, the conviction penalties include up to 1 year in jail; a second-degree misdemeanor conviction carries with it 60 days of incarceration.
If you’ve been accused of committing a criminal offense in Seminole County, reach out to The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. today by calling or filling out an online contact form.