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Iowa

Reporter's Recording Guide

Last updated May 2020

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Summary

Iowa has two laws dealing with the interception of oral, telephonic or electronic communications. Both laws permit a party to those conversations to record them. One of the laws makes recordings by non-parties a serious misdemeanor, while the other permits the recording or interception of such communications 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.

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In-person conversations

Iowa’s eavesdropping law permits someone to record a private conversation if the person making the recording is openly present and participating or listening in the conversation. Iowa Code Ann. § 727.8.

The state has conflicting laws regarding recordings by someone who is not a participant in the conversation, with the most strict — the eavesdropping law — making it a serious misdemeanor regardless of consent. Id. The state’s “Interception of Communications” statute, however, 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).

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Telephone and electronic communications

Under the state’s eavesdropping law, a person may record a telephone or communication of any kind if she or he is a party to the conversation. Iowa Code Ann. § 727.8.

Under the state’s “Interception of Communications” law, it is a felony to willfully intercept any wire 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.

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Hidden cameras

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.

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Criminal penalties

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.

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Civil suits

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.

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Disclosing recordings

Iowa prohibits the disclosure of the contents of any oral, 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).

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