Is Pennsylvania a Two-Party Consent State?
Have you ever been in an intense or threatening conversation? Have you ever been afraid of things turning into a “he said / she said” situation? The idea of secretly recording it for later may cross your mind, but it’s not the best idea if you’re living in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a two-party consent state. This means that you must have explicit permission to record someone during a private conversation.
This means that even if you record someone saying or doing something illegal, that recording may be thrown out as illegal evidence. The contents of the recording would have to be extreme or create a reasonable belief that someone was in danger. Regardless of what is on a recording, if you record a private conversation with someone without everyone’s permission, you can be investigated and charged. Recording someone’s private conversation without expressed permission is considered a felony.
If you recorded someone or are being accused of recording someone without permission, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam. Even if it’s to serve as defensive evidence, our attorneys can explain why it is a bad idea.
What Constitutes a Private Conversation?
The definition of a private conversation is intentionally vague to encourage consent and enforce privacy. If any number of people are talking in a way where it could be reasonably interpreted that one of them wanted privacy, it’s considered a private conversation. This is true even in public spaces, online, in letters, or over the phone.
Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Act
Back in 1978, Pennsylvania enacted the “Wiretapping and Surveillance Control Act.” It states that someone is guilty of a third-degree felony if they intentionally intercept, try to intercept, or have another person intercept a wire, electronic, or oral communication.
It makes sense that stealing information not intended for you would seem like a crime, but why is recording someone in a conversation you’re a part of without permission not allowed? If you record someone without their permission, you are intercepting their oral communication with your recording device. Even if the information is meant for you, a recording device implies you mean to share it, which is illegal.
This law also makes it illegal to share the contents of illegally recorded conversations. You should not bring an illegal recording to an attorney unless they recommend that you do so.
Exceptions to the Two-Party Consent State Rules
There are exceptions to these rules, however. Certain activities and professions legally consider your conversations public at times, even if specific individuals did not consent. There are also private spaces that can set their own rules that ask you to waive your privacy rights. Here are the most common exceptions to Pennsylvania’s two-party consent rules:
- You can record police officers. The responsibilities of police officers are considered public duties. They cannot have private conversations while they working, so you can videotape and audiotape them during traffic stops, interrogations, and arrests.
- You can record speeches, protests, and other public events that have no private entry. A speech and a protest are meant to draw in the masses. When an event has this intention, it cannot be considered private. Conversations around an event between individuals are much more suspect so it’s safer to not record anything other than a speech and active protestors.
- Online spaces can ask for you to waive the right to privacy. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter let you know that you can only use their private space(s) if you consent to let them read and record your private conversations on the platform. They’ll hide these waivers in the terms and conditions.
- You can record someone who you believe is going to commit a felony-level crime. If someone is talking about causing you harm, committing theft, or recording someone else, you may begin recording them. If you are having a hard time proving that a recording shows intent to commit a crime, or you need to prove that a recording does not, you need an attorney.
Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at MVSK Law For Help
A felony is no small matter. Recording someone may seem like an easy way to ensure that the truth gets out, but because Pennsylvania is a two-party consent state, it may do the exact opposite. Don’t run the risk of incriminating yourself unless you know that you or someone else is at risk of being the victim of another felony.
If you’re unsure of how your situation qualifies, a criminal defense attorney can help you. The attorneys at Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam can help you understand what your next steps should be. Contact us today so we get to work immediately.