Reporter's Recording Guide
Last updated May 2020Compare
Kentucky bars the recording, interception, use or disclosure of any oral or telephonic communication without the consent of at least one party to the conversation.
The state also prohibits the recording and disclosure of images intercepted in violation of its voyeurism law.
Violators can face criminal penalties.Compare
It is a felony to overhear or record an in-person conversation without the consent of at least one party to that conversation. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 526.020. The eavesdropping law also makes it a felony to install a device in a place with the intention of overhearing or recording a conversation without at least one party’s consent. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 526.030.
The law does not explicitly limit itself to conversations in which parties have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, the statute’s commentary — which is not legally binding, but may be used by courts to interpret the law — notes that because the provision requires the use of an eavesdropping device, “[a] conversation which is loud enough to be heard through the wall or through the heating system without the use of any device is not protected.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 526.020, Commentary. The commentary describes the law as applying to “private oral communications,” which it indicates are those that “cannot be overheard by the ordinary ear.” Id.Compare
Telephone and electronic communications
The eavesdropping law makes it a felony to intercept any telephone conversation without the consent of at least one party. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 526.010.Compare
It is a misdemeanor under the state’s voyeurism law to use a hidden camera or any image-recording device to view, photograph or film a person who is nude or performing sexual conduct without the person’s consent in a place where the person has a reasonable expectation such filming would not take place. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 531.090.Compare
Recording or intercepting oral or wire communications in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law, or distributing images in violation of the state’s video voyeurism law are felony offenses punishable by one to five years in prison and a $1,000 to $10,000 fine. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 532.060, 534.030.
Violations of the state’s voyeurism law or distributing information obtained illegally through eavesdropping are misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 532.090, 534.040.Compare
The statute does not authorize civil lawsuits against violators.Compare
Using or divulging information obtained in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law is a misdemeanor. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 526.060.
Further, it is a felony to take visual images — photos or video — of a person while in the nude and either distributing the images via email, the Internet or a commercial online service. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 531.100.
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 Sixth Circuit, which includes Kentucky, has not yet directly addressed the First Amendment right to record.Compare