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Recording Phone Calls: Laws by State

Rev Press

Feb 28, 2024

A woman walks along the street. She is talking on the phone.

RevBlogProductivityRecording Phone Calls: Laws by State

There are many reasons why someone may find themselves with the need to record phone calls. For example, journalists use it as an interview tool because it allows them to focus on the conversation at hand without having to look away to take notes. It also eliminates the need for shorthand, and is incredibly convenient when the end goal is to have a transcription of an interview or event.

Needless to say, recording phone calls doesn’t always imply bad intentions. That leads us to one important question to ask anytime you interview someone. “Is it OK to record this phone call?”

From a legal standpoint, the most important question when recording calls is consent. As a general rule of thumb, it’s also polite to make sure that all parties involved in a conversation are aware that it’s being recorded. This is not only the cordial thing to do, but it can help you earn trust with interview sources and avoid any awkward miscommunication down the road.

So, how can you know if getting permission is a nicety or if it’s regulated by law? Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of the laws about recording phone calls, depending on the state.

Laws About Recording Phone Calls by State

In most states, only one party needs to give consent for recording a phone call. This means the interviewer can legally hit the record button without letting the person on the other end of the line know what they’re doing.

However, there are 11 states that require two-party consent. In other words, every individual involved in a conversation must be made aware (and agree to) the recording of the phone call. Those states are California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

  • Pro tip: don’t let the phrase “two-party” throw you. If there are five people on a call, you would need five permissions. The “two” in “two-party” moreso acts as the opposite of the “one” in “one-party.”

One-Party Consent Versus Two-Party Consent

According to Wisconsin-based law firm Matthiesen Wickert & Lehrer, 38 states and the District of Columbia require one-party consent for recording phone calls and other conversations, while the other 11 states have what are considered two-party laws and actually mandate that all parties must give their permission before a conversation can be recorded.

That leaves just one state unaccounted for – in Vermont, state legislators haven’t enacted a consent law for recording conversations. Therefore, Vermont would defer to federal law, and be treated as a one-party state.

If we are talking about state laws, why does federal law matter? Federal law dictates one-party consent, meaning recording phone calls or conversations is allowed, but only if you are actively participating in the conversation. If you are not part of the conversation but you are recording it, then you are engaging in illegal eavesdropping or wiretapping.

Different Phone Call Recording Rules

Adding to the patchwork quilt of the laws surrounding recording phone calls and conversations, is that in some states, consent kicks in only when those involved in a conversation have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Think about it this way – there is likely an expectation of privacy when you’re taking a call from your home, and not when you’re taking a phone call from a coffee shop.

Moreover, how consent is given isn’t the same everywhere. Some states require consent to be explicitly stated, whereas other states still consider consent to be given if it is only implied.

Some state laws get even stickier when you dive into the details. For example:

  • Nevada has a one-party consent law on the books, but the state Supreme Court has historically interpreted it as an all-party consent law.
  • In Maryland, all parties must consent to recording conversations, whether in person or over the phone, yet courts there have ruled that consent is restricted to cases where there’s a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Given the inconsistencies between state and federal laws (and the interpretation of state laws within the state itself), when recording phone calls, it’s recommended to follow the strictest call recording laws that apply, or covering all bases by getting permission from all parties to record a conversation.

You’ll also avoid any misunderstanding if you’re honest about your recording practices, a perk that’s important when doing journalism, marketing, or other interview work.

Recording Phone Calls Across State Lines

Now, what happens if you’re in a state with one-party consent, like New Jersey, and recording a phone conversation, but the person on the other end of the phone is a state with two-party consent, like Pennsylvania?

“A good rule of thumb is that the law of the jurisdiction in which the recording device is located will apply,” Matthiesen Wickert & Lehrer says.

However, it can be difficult to determine whether federal or state laws govern recording phone calls, according to Matthiesen Wickert & Lehrer, and whether, in the example above, the recording law in New Jersey or Pennsylvania prevails. Therefore, it’s wise to heed the common advice and follow the toughest phone call recording law or obtain consent from every participant in the call (or both).

“It is generally legal to record a conversation where all the parties to it consent,” Matthiesen Wickert & Lehrer says.

If participants in a phone conversation are in different states, then the odds of federal law applying to the situation go up, according to Matthiesen Wickert & Lehrer.

Penalties for Violating Phone Call Recording Laws

Now that we’ve established that it’s best to disclose your intentions and get everyone’s verbal permission to record, it’s unlikely that you will run afoul of the law. But what are the consequences if you break one of these laws, no matter whether it involves one-party or two-party consent?

As a general rule, you could be charged with a crime, slapped with a lawsuit, or both. In some cases, you could be charged with a more serious felony rather than a less serious misdemeanor. In many states, you could face jail time, fines, or both if you’re found guilty in a criminal court of violating consent laws.

If you’re ever in great doubt about the legality of recording phone calls or conversations, err on the side of caution and don’t record it. And if recording conversations is part of your everyday work, then it might be a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure you’re following federal and state consent laws.

Technology Can Help you Follow the Rules

While it used to be much easier to secretly record someone, today’s tech has actually made it more likely that everyone will follow the rules. Video conferencing software like Zoom requires everyone on the call to actively agree to the recording; they’ll hear an audible prompt and have to click the permission button before the call leader can start the recording.

Some phone apps will offer similar shortcuts. Before a call can be joined into conferencing, the people on the line may all have to dial a #1 or give a vocal “yes” in response to an automated prompt. At a minimum, call recording apps may give a prerecorded message at the beginning of the call letting attendees know that they are on a recorded line and giving them an opportunity to leave the call if they aren’t comfortable.

These tech tools reduce the chances that you’ll be caught illegally recording anyone, but it’s still wise to brush up on the laws for the locations you call most.

Etiquette Tips for Recording Phone Calls & Conversations

Now you’ve got things squared away regarding recording phone calls from the perspective of the law, let’s go over some general etiquette tips for recording conversations. Following these recommendations will help you appear professional, get the details you want from your conversation, and build the relationships you need for future calls with the same people.

Be Open & Honest

In some states, you might be breaking the law if you’re recording secretly, even in a public place, according to the Digital Media Law Project.

“Whenever possible, make it clear to those around you that you are recording. Don’t hide your camera or tape recorder,” the project advises. “Being upfront puts people on notice that they are being recorded, affords them an opportunity to object, and undercuts any argument that you are acting secretly.”

Listen Carefully

It sounds simple, but if you’re “in charge” of a conversation that’s in person or over the phone and you’re recording it, then it’s your job to listen to what the other person or people are saying. After all, you’re recording the conversation to pick up information that you can refer to later.

Don’t check out and assume that recording phone calls or conversations will handle everything for you. It’s best to actively listen so you can ask relevant questions and be interested in what the callers have to say.

Don’t Mumble

One of the worst things that can happen when you’re listening to a recorded conversation is that you’re not able to understand some or all of what was said. Therefore, you and everyone else engaged in the conversation should speak clearly. If you have to remind someone to speak clearly, then do so – politely. Slow down, pause between sentences, and spell out difficult-to-understand words, technical lingo, or foreign language words.

That being said, there are situations where, despite each party’s best efforts, the recording is difficult to understand, poor quality, or requires a lot of attention to make sense of. If you find yourself in this situation, check out Rev’s Human Transcription and AI Transcription services – we can help you make the most of your phone call recording.

Don’t Eat

So, maybe you skipped lunch to hop on a phone call that’s being recorded. That doesn’t give you permission to noisily chomp on your PB&J sandwich and carrot sticks during the conversation. Wait till after the call to eat your lunch.

Make Sure Everyone Is Identified

If you’re recording phone calls that contain several parties, such as a conference call, everybody should identify themselves at the outset. Pro tip: ask that they spell their last name for clarity and to get the conversation running.

Watch Your Tone

Again, if you’re on a phone call, be mindful of how you’re coming across. Your tone of voice can convey many messages – some of them not so positive.

“Do not sound overly anxious, aggressive, or pushy,” AdvancedEtiquette.com suggests. If you do need to interject, do so with tact. A simple, “Excuse me, but I need to quickly clarify what John said,” or something similar will do.

Be Respectful

In the case of a recorded phone call, focus on the conversation and avoid multitasking. For example, steer clear of distractions such as your computer, your paperwork, or your coworkers. Check your phone or mic set up to be sure it won’t be creating any noisy feedback. You don’t want your phone to cause an annoyance for others.

Which Conversations Should Be Recorded?

Now that you’re up to speed on etiquette, what types of conversations should you be recording? Here are four examples.

Interviews

If you’re a writer, recording phone calls or interviews gives you an easy way to review the recording or transcript to double-check information or flesh out quotes if you were simultaneously taking notes. It’s also very useful for saving in your future story files.

Pro tip: use Rev’s Human Transcription or AI Transcription services post-interview to be even more efficient in getting your story out there.

Client Meetings

Whatever line of business you’re in, it might make sense to record a meeting with a client. Afterward, you can listen to the recording or read the transcript to refresh your memory about key points. This can also provide confirmation that you’re following their directions if there is any confusion down the road.

Conference Calls

You might need an official record of the business conducted during a conference call, especially if any formal votes were taken. If there’s any doubt about what happened during the call, you can go back to the recording or transcript for verification.

College Lectures

During a long lecture at school, you might miss some of the most vital parts when you’re writing them down or typing on your laptop. Recording a lecture and listening to it later or poring over a transcript can help you recover information that’s not in your written notes.

Transcribing a Recorded Phone Call or Conversation

Once you’ve recorded a conversation, how do you transcribe it?

Well, you can do it the old-fashioned way by listening to the recording and then writing down or typing the conversation verbatim. That’s very tedious and time-consuming.

However, a number of digital tools are available to help speed up audio transcription. We recommend you give the Rev Call Recorder app a try. The app allows you to capture important phone conversations — at no charge — and then have the call transcribed for just $1.50 per audio minute.

You did the hard work on phone call recording laws, now let Rev make it easy on transcription. Check out our transcription services to see just how easy it can be.

Affordable, fast transcription. 100% Guaranteed.