Recording Conversations Without Consent in Texas | Wiretapping Laws
With roadway cameras at nearly every street corner, video surveillance in businesses, doorbell cameras on homes, web cams on computers, and recording capabilities on mobile phones – we must navigate carefully in a digital world. We’ve seen titillating news reports exposing a secret audio tape of a public figure having scandalous phone conversations, or video surveillance of questionable traffic stops that escalate in shocking fashion. You may have had a suspicious feeling that you were being recorded, or on the other hand, felt as if you needed to record a conversation with another for your own protection.
With privacy seemingly harder to come by as compared with days long past—what does Texas law say about recording conversations? Is it illegal to record a phone conversation with another person? What about in person?
The short answer is: YES, you can record a conversation with another person without that person’s consent. But this answer requires more explanation.
Recording Phone Calls in Texas | Texas is a One-Party Consent State
Under Texas Law, it is a crime intercept or record any wire, oral or electronic communication without the consent of at least one party. The good news is that you count as one party and if you’re recording then you have probably given yourself consent to record the conversation. Generally speaking, state wiretapping laws turn on whether the state is a one-party consent state. While some states require the consent of all of the parties to a conversation prior to recording, Texas permits the recording of telephone calls, so long as the consent of one of the parties is obtained. As stated, if you are one of the parties on the phone call, then you may consent to having your own conversation recorded—you need not alert the other party. Additionally, a parent may give vicarious consent to the recording of a child’s conversation if the parent has a good faith objectively reasonable belief that the recording is necessary for the welfare of the child.
However, if during a phone call there are multiple parties who are in different states, then be aware that other state laws may require pre-recording consent of all of the parties. In this scenario, if the recording party obtains consent from the other parties before the recording begins, then the recorder is not in violation of wiretapping laws.
See this link to learn more about the various state wiretapping laws.
Recording In-Person Conversations in Texas | Can I Record Someone Else’s Public Conversation?
Texas law (Penal Code §16.02) does not permit you to record in-person communications when the parties have an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception (i.e. If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy). If you wish to record a conversation to which you are not a party, all of the parties must give consent before the recording device is turned on or there must be no reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g. If the recording is taken from your doorbell camera and the parties are standing on you doorstep). If you are a party to the conversation, record away.
Further, you are able to record in-person communication at a public place, like a mall food court or at a football game for example, where parties do not have the expectation of privacy. Remember—if you say it in a public place, within earshot of others who may overhear, you do not have an expectation of privacy in those statements. Generally, such statements may be recorded without violating that state’s wiretapping laws.
A Word of Caution of Recording Conversations in Texas
Please be aware that there are both federal and state wiretapping laws that may limit your ability to making recordings of telephone calls or in person conversations. This article addresses state wiretapping laws in Texas only. Additionally, if a person has violated a state or federal wiretapping statute, he may be both charged criminally and be sued civilly by the damaged party.
Further, while a person may have successfully recorded a conversation under state and federal wiretapping laws, the act of disclosing the recording to other third parties could be, in and of itself, punishable criminally or civilly under other legal theories (such as slander, for example).
If you are faced with a wiretapping charge, or have questions about wiretapping, please contact an attorney who will address both the state and federal regulations as they are related to the facts of your specific case. Wiretapping charges are potentially serious felonies that could land a person in jail or prison, with fines ranging from $200 to $10,000. If you are faced with charges related to wiretapping in Texas, please contact our offices at (817) 993-9249 for a consultation.
Summary on Texas Wiretapping
- A person can record a conversation to which you are a party in Texas without violating wiretapping laws, so long as the other party is in a “one party consent” state.
- A person can record a conversation (to which he is not a party) if one of the participants gives him permission.
- A person can record a conversation when, in a public setting, the participants do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
- It is almost always illegal to record a phone call or private conversation to which one is not a party, does not have consent from at least one of the parties, and could not naturally overhear the conversation.
This article is for educational purposes only and should never be substituted for legal advice.