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South Carolina

Reporter's Recording Guide

Last updated April 2020

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Summary

An individual who is a party to an in-person, telephone, or electronic conversation, or who has the consent of one of the parties to the conversation, can lawfully record it. S.C. Code § 17-30-30.

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In-person conversations

The consent of at least one party to an in-person conversation is required to record “any oral communication uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that the communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying the expectation.” S.C. Code §§ 17-30-15, 17-30-30. Thus, consent is not required to record conversations in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

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Telephone and electronic communications

The consent of at least one party to any telephone call is required to record it. S.C. Code § 17-30-30. And because the provision of the law 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. S.C. Code § 17-30-15.

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Hidden cameras

It is unlawful to photograph or record another person without his or her knowledge or consent for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire where the person photographed or recorded has a reasonable expectation of privacy. S.C. Code § 16-17-470.

It is also a misdemeanor to eavesdrop or be a “peeping tom on or about the premises of another” or to employ the use of audio or video equipment to “spy on or invade the privacy of others.” S.C. Code § 16-17-470. However, this does not apply to “any bona fide news gathering activities.” Id. For example, the South Carolina Court of Appeals found the “peeping tom” law inapplicable to the conduct of newspaper reporters attempting to listen to city council proceedings during a closed executive session because the reporters were on public property — not the premises of another — and did nothing “to enable them to overhear what was going on in the executive session other than to wait in the place provided as a waiting room for reporters and other members of the public.” Herald Publishing Co., Inc. v. Barnwell, 351 S.E.2d 878, 883 (S.C. Ct. App. 1986).

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Criminal penalties

Illegally recording an in-person, telephone or electronic conversation is a felony offense. S.C. Code § 17-30-20.

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Civil suits

Anyone whose oral, telephone or electronic conversation has been recorded or disclosed in violation of the law can bring a civil suit to recover the greater of actual damages, $500 a day for each day of the violation, or $25,000, and can also recover punitive damages and attorney’s fees and costs. S.C. Code § 17-30-135.

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Disclosing recordings

Disclosing the contents of an oral, telephone or electronic conversation obtained through illegal recording is a felony. S.C. Code § 17-30-20.

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