Privacy Laws Govern Tape Recordings

Q: I recently learned that one of my friends has been tape recording all of our telephone conversations without ever telling me. Is he allowed to do that?
A: Yes. Ohio law allows telephone conversations to be tape recorded as long as one party to the conversation knows and consents to its being recorded. The law does not, however, allow your friend to use the tape recording for an improper purpose. For example, your friend could not use the tape recording to blackmail you, nor could he give the recording to your former spouse during a divorce proceeding. Also, your friend is not permitted to tape record a conversation between two other people without their permission, unless the speakers do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the communication.

Q: Do the same rules apply to cellular telephone conversations?
A: As with regular phone conversations, you can record any cellular phone conversation in which you participate as long as you do not use the recording for an improper purpose. Both Ohio law and federal law make it a crime to intercept and/or publish a cellular phone conversation between other people without the consent of at least one of the parties to the conversation.

Q: What about the local police? Can they tap my phone?
A: The police can tap your phone only if they have obtained a search warrant signed by a judge--or if you give them permission.

Q: Can my employer tape record my telephone conversations at work without telling me?
A: The answer may depend on what your job is, but generally, employers cannot record their employees' telephone conversations without first letting them know of their intention to do so.

Q: I have a police scanner and I like to listen to what the police are saying to each other at night. Is there anything wrong with that?
A: Just listening to the police is okay, but using your scanner to pick up cellular phone or other conversations is not permitted.

Q: Once in a while I can pick up my neighbor's telephone conversations on our baby monitor. Is there any problem with my listening to those conversations?
A: If you do not have your neighbor's permission to listen, you could be violating state and federal eavesdropping laws. At least one court has held that the police are not allowed to use tape recordings of conversations they picked up on a baby monitor as evidence because the recordings were made in violation of eavesdropping laws.

Q: We are hiring a nanny to watch our children in our home every day, but we're concerned with all the stories of abuse we have heard. Can we secretly videotape the nanny to make sure that she is treating our children properly?
A: There is no clear-cut answer to that question. You can probably do so as long as you only videotape her activities in your home while she is caring for your children. The nanny could claim that you are invading her privacy, but it may not be reasonable for her to expect complete privacy when she is caring for your children in your home.


This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Cleveland attorney Kenneth A. Zirm. It was updated by Monica Dias, Susan Grogan Faller and Daya Patibandla, attorneys in the Cincinnati office of Frost Brown Todd LLC.

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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