• Key point. The secret recording of oral or electronic conversations may violate state or federal wiretapping laws.
A Georgia court ruled that it was permissible to introduce into evidence in the criminal prosecution of a child molester a tape recording of a telephone call the victim’s mother had made between the victim and the molester. A minor girl informed her mother that she was involved in a sexual relationship with an adult male (Charlie). The mother refused to believe the rumors until her daughter invited her to listen in on a phone conversation between herself and Charlie. A short while later, the victim and her mother decided to tape subsequent conversations with Charlie in order to obtain proof of the sexual relationship. The mother installed a tape recorder and her daughter placed a call to Charlie which was recorded. Charlie was later charged with statutory rape, aggravated child molestation, criminal attempt to commit child molestation, and child molestation. He asked the court not to allow the audio tape into evidence, on the basis of a state law prohibiting the recording or taping of private telephone conversations. The trial court denied this request, noting that the law did not prohibit a party to the conversation from recording it. It pointed out that the victim was fully aware that the conversation was being taped. The victim testified that she voluntarily participated in the recording of her conversation, and encouraged it.
A state appeals court affirmed Charlie’s conviction. It noted that a state law permitted parents to intercept and record under certain circumstances telephone conversations to which their minor children are parties.
Application. Ministers and lay employees sometimes consider recording private telephone conversations between a staff member and a third party in an attempt to obtain evidence of wrongdoing. Before recording such conversations, it is important to recognize that the secret recording of oral or electronic communications may violate state or federal law and telephone company regulations. Because of the potentially serious legal consequences of secretly recording conversations, ministers and lay employees should not secretly record any oral or electronic communications without first obtaining an opinion from a local attorney as to the legality of such a practice under state and federal law. As the court in this case noted, many states have enacted laws that permit the secret recording of conversations so long as one party consents. But this is not true in all states. Further, telephone company regulations may impose additional restrictions on the recording of telephone conversations. Malone v. State, 541 S.E.2d 431 (Ga. App. 2000).
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