How to archive/save answering machine messages?
April 2, 2005 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I need to archive, with good sound quality, a barrage of abusive/threatening messages left on my mother-in-law's answering machine by my brother-in-law's ex-wife. We don't want to get the police involved yet. The machine is a ten year old (approx) RadioShack with no bells, whistles or manual.
posted by tidecat to Technology (14 answers total)
If it's 10 years old, it probably has a tape. Keep the tape, and replace it with a new one.
posted by curtm at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2005

Does it have a line out socket?

If so, run a direct line into your PC, using aux in recording software like DBpoweramp.

If not, try using a microphone held next to the speaker to do the same.

What curtm said above is probably best. If it uses those small cassettes, appropriate a player and back up the audio to your PC or another audio device.
posted by tomble at 4:55 PM on April 2, 2005

Response by poster: The machine does not have a tape. It is digital.
posted by tidecat at 4:56 PM on April 2, 2005

Response by poster: Sorry, I guess I didn't provide enough info right off the bat. No line out socket. The buttons on the thing are (from left to right): repeat, announce, memo, two-way, skip) and there are stop, delete, and play buttons as well.
posted by tidecat at 4:58 PM on April 2, 2005

So record from its speaker to microphone input on your computer.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:06 PM on April 2, 2005

Can you play the audio over the phone, like if you're calling in from a hotel to check your messages? You might be able to record the message over the phone (with a phone tape recorder mic from radio shack) better than simply holding up a tape recorder in the air above the answering machine.
posted by pwb503 at 5:15 PM on April 2, 2005

If you have a tiny bit of electrical expertise you can open up the answering machine and connect the speaker terminals using alligator clips to a stripped cable leading to a line-in or mic-in connection on a tape recorder or computer sound card and record that way.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:53 PM on April 2, 2005

Can you play the audio over the phone, like if you're calling in from a hotel to check your messages?

That's a great idea! If you need something that can potentially be admissable in court, calling your phone, and recording the entire message dump would be most credible (especially if the answering machine "announces" the call date or time). Because of the additional line noise, and the context provided by the ringing, etc., it would be almost impossible to create via digital editing.
posted by curtm at 6:15 PM on April 2, 2005

Here is a previous thread about recording from digital answering machines with a similar question. There is a more recent thread than that about a similar topic, but I couldn't find it...
posted by Chuckles at 6:42 PM on April 2, 2005

Aha, found it: saving a voicemail message as an audio file. MSN beat google...

(oh, and forgive the poor editing above please...)
posted by Chuckles at 6:46 PM on April 2, 2005

Possibly obvious, but worth saying: Stop using that answering machine immediately. The absolute best thing you can have is the original machine with the original messages. By all means back it up by holding a microphone up to the machine and recording. But also buy a new one that allows for recording on tape/line out. Do not open it up and start messing around with the internal machinery - no matter how technically proficient you are, you run the risk of losing it entirely.
posted by googly at 7:10 PM on April 2, 2005

I think it's perfectly safe to make a copy--one of those little handheld recorders with mini tapes would work fine. Just make sure that a) both machines are in good working order when you make the recording, b) you label the new tape with your initials, the date, and some indication of the contents, and c) you make the recording in front of a couple of people. Better yet, have your mother-in-law do the actual recording while you watch. Then play it back to make sure it recorded correctly.

You're smart to collect evidence in case you do decide to pursue a court case. Your mother-in-law is probably eligible to pursue a Civil Protection Order, assuming that the court decides that she was once related to her harasser by marriage (it varies by jurisdiction). A Civil Protection Order can force the harasser to stay away from your mother-in-law and other people, to stop calling her, and in some cases, grant the use of disputed property for the year. If you think your mother is in immediate danger, she can also pursue a Temporary Protection Order that will last for two weeks, and then the court will hold a hearing for the yearlong Civil Protection Order.

Neither order will carry criminal penalties unless the harasser violates the order. If/when the case goes to trial, your mother-in-law can take the stand and testify that she made the recording, that it's accurate, and that she can identity the voice. Hope that's helpful!

(Btw, IANAL (yet))
posted by equipoise at 7:27 AM on April 3, 2005

Frankly, if I were in your shoes, I'd call the police and have it noted as evidence now. Give them the whole machine, assuming you don't lose the message when it's unplugged. If you do, suppose there's an outage? Best a police officer be able to testify to the content of the message he heard if something itself happens to the recording in the meantime. A copy of the message onto secondary media isn't going to be nearly as useful for legal purposes, at least in my entirely layman's opinion.
posted by WCityMike at 1:43 PM on April 3, 2005

My opinion isn't legal advice, but it isn't a layperson's advice either--I'm currently spending a semester representing victims of domestic violence in court.

What do you expect the police to do with this evidence? They aren't going to spend their time storing evidence when there's no case. If your mother-in-law initiated a civil protection order suit at some point, it still wouldn't be a criminal case--it would be a civil suit. A lawyer could keep the material safe for you, but this isn't the police's job.

When a recording is played in a courtroom, it is something that can be "uniquely identified through the senses," so you will not necessarily be required to prove the chain of custody. In other words, as long as a witness can reliably identify the recording, you don't need to take further steps to establish that it is the same object that was previously found.

You will need to show that "the recording is an accurate reproduction of the events involved. Therefore, the equipment used to record the original event, as well as the equipment used to show it in court, must be in good working condition. In addition, a qualified witness must be able to identify the scenes, persons, or voices on the tape. Finally, the tape recording itself must be securely stored, to prevent the possibility of erasing, editing, or other tampering" (from Mauet, Trial Techniques, Sixth Edition).

So make sure the recording (or recording of the recording) stays in a safe place! For extra safety, you might want to type up a transcript, which will help you if you lose the tape, the judge prefers to see the evidence that way, or it's hard to make out the voice on the tape.

I'm not sure if these steps seem overly complicated or overly easy, but I bet that they'll protect you sufficiently. Please disregard all the dramatic Law and Order episodes you've seen, and consult a lawyer if you feel it's necessary.
posted by equipoise at 2:33 PM on April 3, 2005

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