Legal Hotline: Wiretap Act - Recorded Interviews

  • Aug 02, 2018

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  We encourage our reporters to record interviews for accuracy, with interviews typically recorded over the phone and sometimes in person.  Are there any legal issues associated with recording interviews?

A:  Yes. Pennsylvania is a two-party consent state, and reporters must get permission to record interviews in order to comply with the state Wiretap Act. Note, however, that this law does not apply during public meetings held under the Sunshine Act.

The Pennsylvania Wiretap Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5701, et seq., is designed to prevent unwarranted government interception of private communications, but it also prohibits private parties from recording a conversation, where there is an expectation of privacy, without prior consent of all parties involved. See 18  Pa.C.S.A. § 5704(4). Violation of the Act is a felony of the third degree, which is punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment and/or a $15,000 fine.

Reporters wishing to record interviews in person or over the phone must get consent from the interviewee prior to recording. PNA recommends reporters ask for permission to record the conversation before beginning to record and get permission again after the recording has started so that there is a record of consent.

Note, the Wiretap Act does not prohibit recording during public meetings or require reporters to obtain permission to record public meetings held by agencies such as school boards and borough councils. The Act’s prohibition on recording oral communications only applies where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, and Section 711 of the Sunshine Act expressly permits anyone attending a public meeting to record “all the proceedings.” In light of the Wiretap Act’s limiting language and the express permission to record granted by the Sunshine Act, the Wiretap Act does not apply during public meetings, and reporters do not have to obtain permission to record public meetings. 

As always, this is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your newspaper’s attorney or the Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.  

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