Record Someone

Is It Illegal to Record Someone Without Their Permission?

We are in the digital age, so it’s easy to whip out a phone or camera and take a quick photo or recording. However, it’s important to consider the ethics and legality of recording someone else without their consent. 

Whenever you go out in public, there is always a risk that you could be recorded, whether this is on a security camera, in the background of someone’s recording of a concert, or a stranger looking to save a picture of your hairstyle or clothing that they may want to emulate. 

Today, we’re going to help you understand when it’s illegal to video record someone without their consent in the United States, general tips for secretly recording someone, and a breakdown of recording laws by state. 

Is it Illegal to Video Record Someone Without Their Consent?

The short answer to whether it’s illegal to video record someone without their consent is it’s typically okay to record others in public, but not in private without their consent. 

However, there are many nuances to this rule, which is what we’ll be exploring in the following sections. 

The Federal Wiretap Act

In the 1960s, the United States government received backlash for recording phone lines. This outrage led to the Wiretap Act, which made it illegal for anyone to record electronic, telephonic, or oral communication secretly in settings where other parties can reasonably expect the setting to be private. 

“Reasonably expect” leads to many different interpretations of this rule, which we will discuss in our public vs. private section. 

According to Criminal Defense Lawyer, there are also two major exceptions to the Wiretap Act: 

  • If the person is authorized by the law to secretly record others (such as a police officer collecting evidence against a criminal)

  • If one person in the conversation consents to the recording (depending on the state)

Recordings Others in Public vs. Private 

So, is it illegal to record someone in public?

In general, no. According to Sparks Law, when an individual is on personal property, it’s expected that there is some level of privacy. Recording and photos are often left up to the owner’s discretion. If you choose to record or take pictures on another person’s property, the owner is within their rights to ask you to leave and even have you arrested for trespassing, depending on local laws. 

However, when an individual is in public, the short answer is no. It’s not illegal to film or take photos of another person in public. 

It’s expected that individuals realize that they are leaving the privacy of their homes, and they shouldn’t expect complete privacy from others. However, the laws do leave room for “appropriate filming” to be considered in public areas. 

For example, filming someone in the bathroom, or a dressing room, or trying to film down someone’s shirt or up their skirt would be considered illegal and, possibly, sexual harassment. 

Keep in mind that the above information is based on federal laws within the United States. State laws can and do affect this information and whether or not you can record on private property without consent. Continue reading for a full breakdown of whether it is illegal to record someone without the permission of the state. 

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Recording Laws by State

The following information on recording phone calls and conversations is based on information presented by Justia Law and was last reviewed in October 2021. 

Alabama

In Alabama, the law requires that you have the consent of at least one party to be able to record telephone or in-person conversations legally. An illegal recording is classified as a misdemeanor. 

Alaska