this conversation may be recorded, just cause i wanna…

From the US Federal Courts (via ThreatLevel)… it turns out that recording a conversation on your iPhone (and I assume any other device capable of making such recordings) with the permission of the other person you are recording is not a violation of the Wiretap Act unless you plan to use the recording for “nefarious purposes.”  (The court did not weigh in on whether secretly recording your conversation makes you obnoxious, however).   Now, in order to do this legally, you must be one of the participants in the conversation, triggering the “one party permission” exception to the law.  One of the interesting (and somewhat unsettling) statements made in the opinion was that a person having a conversation with another person in their own kitchen did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  It was also noted that one does not need to have been invited to participate in the conversation being recorded to be considered a participant allowed to record.

Recording conversations is getting easier and easier as more of our devices include the hardware, software and storage needed.  Products such as LiveScribe’s Echo Smartpen and iPad apps such as Audiotorium add a productivity bonus, allowing recordings to be quickly tied to written notes.   This decision seems to remove the last legal barrier to people unilaterally recording their conversations for later reference – or to make sure that the person they are talking to cannot claim they said something different or was misunderstood later.

My takeaways from this:

I think we are going to see a lot more personal use of recording devices in the coming years… storage is cheap and the ability to index and search recordings is only going to get better.   The idea of having a permanent record of your normal daily interactions for later review will become more mainstream.  While this has some advantages (“You did so promise to have my home renovations done in 30 days, shady contractor… and here you are saying it”), it also has the potential to change the dynamics of conversations.  Will this make us more careful in choosing our words?  (Probably not, but it will make it more entertaining to trip people up with their own words.   I hope my wife is not reading this…)

Forensics to prove that a voice on a recording belongs to a specific person already exist; they will become more of an issue (and profit center) as more recordings are used in civil cases.  I wonder if geotagging of recordings will also play a role here… if you checked in to FourSquare at the same time and place as my recording of a conversation with you, does this make the conversation more attributable to you?

This seems to present a dilemma for corporate security professionals.  Recording conversations can be a great memory aid and productivity enhancer, however, how can we know that those same recordings (probably on devices not owned by the organization) will be stored and handled securely?   There is also the question of the effect of such recordings on corporate culture – will people be willing to share ideas and opinions freely knowing that their words may be recorded for posterity?  It seems to me that organizations need to make a conscious decision as to whether to allow recordings of meetings and conversations to be made on their premises – and if the answer is “no,” to make the policy known to employees and visitors.

Leave a Reply