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Aug. 16, 2007  ·   A confrontation between police and journalists in Pennsylvania over the right to tape phone calls…

Aug. 16, 2007  ·   A confrontation between police and journalists in Pennsylvania over the right to tape phone calls has been resolved, with cops returning a seized newsroom computer and the local newspaper enacting a written policy requiring reporters to get permission before recording interviews.

New Castle News lawyer James Manolis said the newspaper already had an unwritten policy that journalists should get consent from sources before tape recording phone conversations, and that the new written policy will not represent a change.

The dispute between police and reporters in the small Pennsylvania town dates to July 25, when the local police chief obtained a search warrant for the News’ newsroom to seize a computer that he believed contained a recording of an interview he gave to a News reporter. (The police chief learned of the possible existence of the recording from his wife, who is also a reporter at the paper.)

To support this seizure, the police chief (and the district attorney who agreed to investigate the incident) pointed to a Pennsylvania law that requires a party to consent to the recording of his or her voice.

On the other side, Manolis pointed to case law that he said required a person to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversation before criminal penalties could be exacted on the recorder. That is not possible for a police chief talking to a newspaper reporter on the record for a story to be published in the paper, Manolis said.

“How can you argue you have an expectation of privacy?” Manolis said. “It is my considered judgment those circumstances would not support a charge or conviction for violating the statutes.”

The newspaper went to court to get the computer back. In the end, the two sides settled. In exchange for the newspaper enacting the written policy, prosecutors agreed not to charge any reporters for violations of the Pennsylvania statute and did not search the contents of the computer, Manolis said.

(Media Counsel: James Manolis, Verterano & Manolis, New Castle, Pa.)NW


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