Considering how common mobile phones and other electronic devices have become, it’s now easier than ever to record conversations and interactions we have with others. But just because you have the ability to hit the record button, it doesn’t mean the law lets you do it whenever you want.
Many conversations are completely protected
The Maryland Wiretap Act controls when anyone can, or cannot, legally record conversations. As a general matter, it is illegal to record any conversation unless you are a party to the conversation and you have the consent of everyone who takes part in the conversation. And even if you obtain the required consent, if you’re recording for a criminal or tortious purpose, doing so is against the law. The Act covers both audio and video recordings.
Limitations of the Act
It does not, however, cover all conversations. Instead, it only bars recording conversations where the participants have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For instance, let’s say you and some friends are in an apartment talking. Unless everyone consents, none of you can legally record the conversation. But let’s assume the walls are very thin or the doors and windows are open – it’s obvious that your voices will carry and could be heard outside the apartment. In that case, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and even a neighbor could legally record your conversation, without your consent.
The idea of having a reasonable expectation of privacy is important when determining whether recording is legal or illegal. Many conversations take place in a public or semi-public space. While such conversations may increase the likelihood that there is no expectation of privacy, it’s not a foregone conclusion. Two people could have a quiet conversation in the middle of a public park and still retain a reasonable expectation that their discussion would remain private.