Syracuse Child Sex Abuse Allegations: Is It Legal to Record Telephone Conversations in Pennsylvania?

By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire

The Child Sex Abuse Scandal surrounding the associate head coach of Syracuse University’s men’s basketball, Bernie Fine, presented an unexpected twist this weekend with the release of a taped telephone conversation between one of the alleged victims and Fine’s wife, Laurie.  The recorded telephone call seems to establish that Laurie Fine knew her husband had molested many boys, not just the alleged victim on the telephone.  She states that she addressed the issue with her husband, but he refused to acknowledge that he had a problem.  The call also touches upon an incident where Mrs. Fine actually witnessed the sexual abuse of the victim in her home, as well as the fact that she had a sexual relationship of her own with the victim.

This situation, however, presents an opportunity to discuss a question routinely raised by our clients.  Is it legal to record a telephone conversation in Pennsylvania?  The question appears in many contexts, regardless of whether you practice in Workers’ Compensation, Real Estate, or Business Law.  For me, the question most often arises in Family Law when a spouse or parent wants to secretly record a conversation with the other spouse/parent in order to aid our case at trial.  The spouse or parent may want to record admissions of wrong-doing or infidelity, as well as to gain proof of verbal and emotional abuse.

It is important to know, however, that, generally speaking, it is ILLEGAL to record a telephone call IN PENNSYLVANIA without the consent of all participants to the call.  The telephone call in the Fine case is legal because both Utah and New York (where each party was located during the telephone call) require the consent of only one participant to the call.  In Pennsylvania , the restriction is not limited to just telephone calls.  It applies to all electronic survelliance.  The Attorney General’s office explains that electronic surveillance includes “the interception (to include recording) of electronic (digital pagers, computers/e-mail, fax machines), oral (face-to-face conversations where there is an expectation of privacy/non-interruption) and wire (telephone conversations) communications. ”  Again, while there are limited exceptions to the general rule, the general rule is that recording a communication without the consent of each party is illegal and a felony in the third degree.

If you have any questions concerning Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law or may be the victim of a violation of the state’s wiretapping law, we welcome to call our office and schedule a free initial consultation to discuss the issue with one of our experienced attorneys.

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