October 1, 1999
RECORDING PHONE CALLS
By: Christopher Reinhart, Research Attorney
You asked whether Connecticut or federal law allow someone to tape a telephone conversation without the other person's knowledge and how these tapes are admissible in civil and criminal court.
Under Connecticut law, it is illegal for a person to record a telephone conversation without the knowledge of all parties to the conversation (CGS § 52-570d). The statute excludes law enforcement and certain other individuals. Evidence obtained illegally by the use of an electronic device is not admissible in court (CGS § 52-184a). Other statutes affect the ability to record conversations in other situations. These statutes include tampering with private communications and eavesdropping (CGS § 53a-187 et. seq.) and wiretapping and electronic surveillance (CGS § 54-41a et. seq.).
Under federal law, a person can legally record a conversation if one party to the communication consents (18 USC § 2511(2)(d)). This does not apply to recordings made for an illegal purpose. The conversation is admissible in any court if it was obtained in a manner authorized by the statute. Recordings that violate Connecticut law are generally admissible in federal court if they meet the requirements of federal law.
In most cases, no one may record a telephone conversation without the knowledge of all parties to the conversation. Knowledge includes: (1) orally announcing, in a prerecorded message, to all parties to the conversation at the beginning that it is being recorded; (2) prior consent; or (3) supplying an automatic and distinct signal repeated every 15 seconds while recording equipment is used. Anyone who violates the law may be sued for damages, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees.
The following people can record telephone conversations without the knowledge of the parties to that conversation:
1. law enforcement and public safety personnel, including people working with law enforcement officers, engaged in the lawful performance of their duties;
2. anyone who receives threats of extortion, bodily harm, or other unlawful requests or demands;
3. anyone who receives calls repeatedly or at an extremely inconvenient hour; and
4. FCC-licensed radio personnel recording for rebroadcast or programming (CGS § 52-570d).
The federal law provides, in pertinent part, that it is illegal to intentionally:
1. intercept, try to intercept, or get another to intercept or attempt to intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication;
2. use, attempt to use, or get another to use or attempt to use any electronic, mechanical, or other device to intercept any oral communication when (a) the device transmits a signal or communication by radio or other such communication, (b) the person knows or has reason to know that the device was sent through the mail or interstate or foreign commerce, (c) the device will be used or attempted to be used on the premises of, or for the purpose of obtaining information relating to the operations of, any business or other commercial establishment engaged in interstate commerce, or (d) the person acts in any U.S. territory or possession;
3. disclose, use, or try to disclose or use the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of a wire, oral, or electronic communication in violation of the act; or
4. disclose or try to disclose the contents of such communication lawfully intercepted, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained in connection with a criminal investigation and with intent to improperly obstruct, impede, or interfere with a duly authorized criminal investigation.
The statute's exceptions include situations where one party has given prior consent to the taping (18 USC § 2511).
Use of a communication and evidence derived from it is prohibited in court or other proceedings if disclosure would violate the law (18 USC § 2515). A person receiving information by authorized means concerning a communication that is lawfully intercepted can disclose the communication and evidence derived from it while giving testimony in any proceeding (18 USC § 2517).
Recordings that violate Connecticut law are generally admissible in federal court if they meet the requirements of federal law. Federal law governs the admissibility of evidence in federal court (U.S. v. Sotomayor, 592 F.2d 1219 (1979)).