I'm really dumb, but did I break the law?
March 6, 2012 9:08 PM   Subscribe

I recorded a business meeting without consent. Did I do something illegal?

I was in a business meeting yesterday, there is always a person taking minutes and we discussed introducing a tape recorder to make the minutes easier. Yesterday, the minutes women wasn't there and two key workers weren't there. I put my cellphone out on the table and recorded a voice memo. I didn't mention this out loud to the group.

My thoughtlessness was pretty stupid. Now some of my co-workers are upset. (By the way, this was a pretty boring educational session and not a controversial meeting at all.) I understand their complaints and I would have been upset too, so I have appropriately and throughly apologized.

The concern now is if I broke the law. I live and work in Pennsylvania. It is pretty clear that in phone conversation it is illegal to record a conversation without two party consent, but I'm wondering if a business meeting with all parties present is different. I placed my phone out on the table, but I don't think that counts as implied consent because it might not have been clear I was taping.

I did some googling. And I'm not getting a clear answer.


Sincerely, an idiot.
posted by meta x zen to Law & Government (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Further, this law is still on the books in PA. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5703(1)
posted by meta x zen at 9:10 PM on March 6, 2012

Here's the whole wiretapping and electronic surveillance statute. Looks like yes. Do you think they are going to go to the police? Do you think the police and district attorney will care?
posted by grouse at 9:31 PM on March 6, 2012

I don't know about PA for sure, but in MA, I was warned by our lawyer at the office that we do legally have to inform folks if you're going to record. However, I don't think you're going to go to jail or anything. If people are upset, I would delete the recording completely and inform all of the parties that it's been deleted. I'm obvs not a lawyer.

If your company doesn't have an easily accessible legal staff that can answer this for you, I would come clean to your boss and ask for guidance on what to do next. I can't imagine you'd get in trouble for being proactive.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:31 PM on March 6, 2012

If the answer is yes, and people are upset, can you ask them if the matter would be resolved if you had the minutes women take notes from the recording, then destroyed the recording? That seems easiest.
posted by Night_owl at 9:55 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

OK, well I hope you get this anonymized. One can never be too careful.

Look, here's my take on this as a criminal defense attorney: prosecutors and police usually don't go out of their way to bust people, simply because low-hanging fruit is always available. Don't go tell the cops about this. Don't talk about it at the office anymore. You've said you're sorry. That sounds like a good start. If anybody brings it up, tell them that's something that you don't want to be doing, and change the topic.

Unless one of your co-workers goes to the police, then that's probably the end of it. Even if they do, you might have a defense (the recording being obvious and out in the open.) Usually I'd say "get a lawyer", but at this point, I'd simply suggest keeping a low profile, not talking about it, and hoping it blows over. And if the authorities ever ask you about this, tell them you don't want to talk about it without a lawyer.

This is not legal advice for your situation. I don't practice in Pennsylvania, and don't want to. Don't break laws. That is all.
posted by Happydaz at 11:14 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

To be clear for readers : surrepstitiously Recording Conversations you are a party to is legal in some states and not in others. read up on it, some nuance's involved.
I record ALL my business calls and every caller (that's not in my state) is informed, to continue the conversation they must consent.
I wish this didn't have to be a part of my life but it really does.
posted by Twist at 12:06 AM on March 7, 2012

Can We Tape? is a helpful resource.
posted by mlis at 1:39 AM on March 7, 2012

There is a huge difference between recording phone calls, and recording people in a room that you are in. I doubt what you did was illegal.
posted by gjc at 5:23 AM on March 7, 2012

Okay, this is an explicit request for legal advice. If you really want an answer to this question, get a lawyer. Otherwise, don't sweat it. It's in the past, and unless someone decides to make a stink about it, nothing is likely to come of it.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 AM on March 7, 2012

Are you worried enough to just delete the file?
posted by kenaldo at 6:09 AM on March 7, 2012

There is a huge difference between recording phone calls, and recording people in a room that you are in.

And in Pennsylvania, they both appear to be illegal, unless the communicating people could have expected that their communication would be recorded.
posted by grouse at 6:15 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Non lawyer here. Not legal advice. But the "Can We Tape" site says Consent is not required of any parties if the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their non-electronic communication. See definition of “oral communication,”18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5702

It's a meeting where minutes are regularly taken. Even if she was sick that day, I doubt there was any expectation of privacy. That might change if the minutes are meant for business use only and you upload your recording on youtube.
posted by politikitty at 10:05 AM on March 7, 2012

i am a lawyer, but not your lawyer, and i am not licensed to practice in your state. i have not read the PA statute in question and i know basically nothing about criminal law.

were recordings customarily taken (this is how i first read your post)? or was notice given by anyone that the minute-taker would record the discussions from now on?

with respect to civil liability, if there was standard recordings, i think that politikitty is correct--although not because minutes are customarily taken, but because recordings were customarily taken. you have a much, much stronger argument that meeting attendees had no reasonable expectation privacy as to their discussions within that meeting when it was standard for the minute-taker to audio-record the discussions.
posted by anthropomorphic at 3:39 PM on March 8, 2012

I spoke to a lawyer as advised here. I was assured with out any doubt I did not break the law because there was "no expectation of privacy." Thanks for all the feedback guys.
posted by meta x zen at 8:31 PM on March 14, 2012

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