Reporter's Recording Guide
Last updated October 2021Compare
Iowa has two laws dealing with the interception of in-person, telephonic or electronic communications. Both laws permit the recording of those conversations by a party or by a non-party with the consent of at least one party.
The state prohibits disclosure of the illegally intercepted contents of such communications.
Violators can face both civil and criminal penalties.Compare
Iowa’s “Interception of Communications” statute makes it a felony to willfully intercept or record the contents of a confidential in-person conversation without the consent of at least one party to the conversation. Iowa Code Ann. § 808B.2(2)(c). The statute does not apply, however, to conversations in which the participants do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in public places. See definition of “oral communications,” Iowa Code Ann. § 808B.1(8).
Iowa has a separate eavesdropping law that permits someone to record a private conversation if the person making the recording is openly present and participating or listening in the conversation, or if she otherwise has authority to record it. Iowa Code Ann. § 727.8. The Iowa Supreme Court has said that, under the eavesdropping law, a non-party has authority to record the conversation if she has consent of at least one party as required under the Interception of Communications statute. State v. Fox, 493 N.W.2d 829, 831 (Iowa 1992).Compare
Telephone and electronic communications
Under the state’s “Interception of Communications” law, it is a felony to willfully intercept any telephone or electronic communication absent the consent of at least one party to the communication. Iowa Code Ann. § 808B.2(2)(c). Because the provision of the statute dealing with electronic communications applies to “any transfer of signals, signs, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature” sent by “wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photooptical system,” consent of at least one party likewise is required to disclose the contents of text or email messages sent between wireless devices. Iowa Code Ann. § 808B.1.
Under the state’s eavesdropping law, a person may record a telephone or communication of any kind if she is a party to the conversation or otherwise has authority to record it. Iowa Code Ann. § 727.8. The Iowa Supreme Court has said that, under the eavesdropping law, a non-party has authority to record the conversation if she has consent of at least one party as required under the Interception of Communications statute. State v. Fox, 493 N.W.2d 829, 831 (Iowa 1992).Compare
The state’s privacy law makes it an aggravated misdemeanor to secretly view, photograph or film a person who is either fully or partially nude without consent, so long as that subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Iowa Code Ann. § 709.21. The statute only applies, however, if it was done “for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person.” Id.Compare
Felony charges under the state’s “Interception of Communications” law carry penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and a $750 to $7,500 fine. Iowa Code Ann. § 902.9.
Violations of the eavesdropping law are serious misdemeanors carrying penalties of up to one year in jail and a $315 to $1,875 fine. Iowa Code Ann. § 903.1.
Aggravated misdemeanors under the privacy law can be punished by up to two years in prison and a fine of $650 to $6,250. Id.Compare
Anyone whose confidential communications are intercepted, disclosed or used in violation of the state’s “Interception of Communications” statute may seek injunctive relief from the court and recover in a civil suit the payment of actual damages, $100 per day or $1,000, whichever is greater, plus potential punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other litigation costs. Iowa Code Ann. § 808B.8.Compare
Iowa prohibits the disclosure of the contents of any in-person, telephonic or other electronic communication if the person knows or has reason to believe the communications were intercepted in violation of the state’s “Interception of Communications” law. Iowa Code Ann. § 808B.2.
The state’s harassment law prohibits the distribution or publication of photos or video showing a person who is either fully or partially nude or engaged in sexual activity, if that publication is knowingly without consent. Iowa Code Ann. § 708.7. The statute, however, makes exceptions for photos or videos of voluntary exposure occurring in public or published in the public interest, including for news reporting. Iowa Code Ann. § 708.7(6).
If a journalist received an illegally recorded conversation and was not involved in the illegal conduct, the First Amendment likely protects the publication of such material, to the extent it is a matter of public concern and truthful. See Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001). For more information, see this guide’s introductory chapter here.Compare
Right to record government officials in public
A growing consensus of courts have recognized a constitutional right to record government officials engaged in their duties in a public place. This First Amendment right to record generally encompasses both video and audio recording. For more information on the right to record broadly, see this guide’s introductory chapter here.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which includes Iowa, has not yet directly addressed the First Amendment right to record, although it has favorably cited the federal courts of appeal that have recognized a right to record police activity in public. Chestnut v. Wallace, 947 F.3d 1085, 1090 (8th Cir. 2020).Compare