Pennsylvania

Date: 
August 1, 2012

Summary of statute(s): It is unlawful to record either an in-person conversation or electronic communication without the consent of all parties. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5704 (West 2012).

In-person conversations: It is unlawful to record an “oral communication,” which is defined as “any oral communication uttered by a person possessing an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation” without first obtaining the consent of all parties engaged in the conversation. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5702. Thus, a journalist does not need consent to record conversations in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Electronic communications: It is unlawful to record any telephone communication without first obtaining the consent of the participants to the communication. And because the provision of the statute dealing with wireless communications applies to “any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature,” consent likewise is required to disclose the contents of text messages sent between wireless devices. Id.

Hidden cameras: It is a misdemeanor to photograph or record a fully or partially nude person in a place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, to use a hidden camera, regardless of whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, to “up-skirt” or “down-blouse,” or secretly photograph or record that person under or through his or her clothing, and to transmit any images obtained by these means. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7507.1. The law, however, does not criminalize the use of recording devices for other purposes in areas to which the public has access or there is no reasonable expectation of privacy (i.e., filming conversations on public streets or a hotel lobby).

Criminal penalties: Illegally recording an in-person conversation or electronic communication is a felony offense. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5703.

Civil suits: Anyone whose wire, electronic or oral communication has been recorded or disclosed in violation of the law can bring a civil suit to recover the greater of actual damages, $100 a day for each day of violation, or $1,000, and can recover punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs as well. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5725. The statute also allows any provider of an electronic communication service, subscriber or customer aggrieved by a violation of the law to sue and recover such relief as may be appropriate, including damages, attorney’s fees and court costs. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5747.

Disclosing recordings: Disclosing the contents of a wire, electronic or oral communication obtained through illegal recording is a felony. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5703.