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Digital audio recorder in pocket earns man wiretapping charges
Thu Sep 10, 2009 2:36PM EDT
Got a digital voice recorder like one of these? Watch out how you use it or you could land yourself in scorching legal trouble. One man recently found that out the hard way, after he was arrested and discovered to be recording the goings-on with just such a device in his pocket. Not only is he now facing charges for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and trespassing, he's also charged with unlawful wiretapping and possessing a device for wiretapping.
The story goes that one Chi Quang Truong was embroiled in a dispute with a Massachusetts auto service center, which didn't repair his car as quickly as Truong wanted. Truong got into a verbal scuffle with the service shop and the police were called. Apparently Truong was recording all of this -- for reasons unknown -- using a device stowed in his pocket, and cops added the wiretapping charges to his rap sheet during his arrest.
But wait a second: Don't you need a wire to get charged with wiretapping? I thought so too, and the theory here is that since Truong didn't have explicit permission to record the conversation (memories of Linda Tripp), he was slapped with the additional charges. In 12 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington) you're required to get the permission of all parties on the line before making any kind of recording. In the rest of the country, any single member that's part of the conversation can legally record it without consent from the other parties. And as Network World notes, wiretapping laws largely extend to in-person communications now, so no wire is required.
Still, does the punishment really fit the crime? Wiretapping is a class D felony, and that can mean (based on my admittedly limited understanding of criminal statutes) up to 12 years in prison. While Truong is unlikely to face anything that severe (and, in all probability, will have the wiretapping charges dropped as his prosecution progresses), he probably shouldn't be facing charges for any of this. And "possession of a wiretapping device"? Yikes. Even my iPhone has a voice recorder feature built in. I'm in possession of such a device any time I step out in public.
Check your own pockets, briefcase, purse, or backpack: You might be a criminal!