August 1, 2012

Summary of statute(s): Alabama law sets criminal penalties for recording or disclosing private communication of others without the consent of at least one of the persons involved. The statute also bans secret observations while trespassing on private property. Those divulging illegally obtained communications also face criminal penalties.

In-person conversations: The consent of at least one party to a communication is needed to record a private conversation. Ala. Code §13A-11-30. This means a reporter’s tape-recorded conversation with a source would be permissible. However, there is no need to obtain consent to record conversations held in public places, where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. See definition of “private place,” Ala. Code § 13A-11-30(2).

Electronic communications: Alabama’s criminal eavesdropping law prohibits the use of “any device” to overhear or record communications without the consent of at least one party engaged in the communication being recorded. Ala. Code §13A-11-31.

Hidden cameras: Intentionally engaging in secret observation or photography while trespassing on private property is considered unlawful “criminal surveillance.” Ala. Code § 13A-11-32. The law, however, does not criminalize the use of any such recording devices positioned in areas to which the public has access (i.e., filming conversations on public streets or a hotel lobby).

Criminal penalties: Unlawful eavesdropping is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Ala. Code § 13A-5-7. Criminal surveillance and disclosing information obtained through these methods are misdemeanors carrying a maximum jail sentence of six months. Ala. Code § 13A-5-7. Installing an eavesdropping device on private property is considered a felony offense carrying a prison sentence between one and 10 years. Ala. Code § 13A-11-33.

Disclosing recordings: A person cannot knowingly or recklessly divulge information obtained through illegal eavesdropping or surveillance. Ala. Code § 13A-11-35.