Retroactive Wiretapping in Google Voice?
July 13, 2009 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Does Google Voice record all calls connected through the service, and if so, would those calls be subpoenable?

This part of Google Voice's privacy policy got me thinking:

When you use Google Voice, Google's servers automatically record certain information about your use of Google Voice. Similar to other web services, Google Voice records information such as account activity (including storage usage, number of log-ins), data displayed or clicked on (including UI elements, links); and other log information (including browser type, IP-address, date and time of access, cookie ID, and referrer URL). Google's servers also automatically collect telephony log information (including calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information, and types of calls).

They're recording information "such as," as opposed to "specifically limited to," or something else of the sort. Knowing that Google Voice provides me the option to click-to-record through the web interface, not to mention storing my voicemails as audio on their servers, I think it's safe to say that they can aggregate the content of all phone calls connected through the service.

But are they (and are calls made through traditional telecoms recorded too)? And would the content of the calls (the audio, not just who I called and when) be able to be subpoenaed in a court case? Not that I have anything to worry about, but does a recording of a call stored on a server change our previous presumptions of privacy so that any Google Voice call can effectively be "retroactively wiretapped?"
posted by GamblingBlues to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not counting secret NSA warrantless wiretapping, calls made through traditional telecoms are not recorded unless a warrant has issued. Privacy laws and the sheer volume of data involved make it both illegal and impractical. I doubt Google Voice skirts the former even though Google might be able to handle the latter unless the service really takes off.

Just as a first off, two-party recording states would prohibit Google from recording the conversations without the consent of both parties. Since it is possible that at least one party is not a Google Voice user, no amount of end-user license agreement language would be sufficient to overcome a lack of consent from such a party.
posted by jedicus at 10:46 AM on July 13, 2009

AFAIK, Google Voice only records calls when you ask it to. Voicemails, I believe, are automatically recorded.
posted by reductiondesign at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2009

Best answer: this lawyer is of the opinion he can subpoena any damn thing he wants as long as it is relevant and not privileged. Assuming that the calls were recorded, lack of consent of a party cannot defeat a legally-issued subpoena.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2009

I forgot to address that point but I agree with Ironmouth. Although Google Voice probably can't or won't record conversations for the reasons I gave, if it did record them, whether legally (e.g., voicemail) or illegally (conversations without consent from the appropriate parties), the recording would be subject to a subpoena. Consider the case in which you were suing Google for illegally recording your conversations. Just how do you think you would get the recordings into evidence?
posted by jedicus at 10:53 AM on July 13, 2009

When activated, the recording feature of Google voice also plays a message (audible to both parties) announcing that the call is being recorded.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:08 AM on July 13, 2009

Well that solves the two party consent issue, I suppose.
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on July 13, 2009

On the other hand, if a court ordered Google to *start* taping your calls, I would assume they would comply. IANAL.
posted by meta_eli at 11:42 AM on July 13, 2009

It's Google. I just assume they record and log everything. But I'm paranoid that way.
posted by rokusan at 12:32 PM on July 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

G Voice will only record an incoming call if you press "4". It will make an announcement to both parties, "Call recording on". You cannot record a call initiated by you. Even with the announcement.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:11 PM on July 13, 2009

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