Massachusetts

Date: 
August 1, 2012

Summary of statute(s): Massachusetts prohibits the recording, interception, use or disclosure of any conversation, whether in person or via wire or telephone, without the permission of all the parties. The state also prohibits the recording and disclosure of images intercepted in violation of its hidden camera laws. Violators can face both civil and criminal penalties.

In-person conversations: The state requires all parties to a conversation to give consent before one can record any private oral conversation. Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 272, § 99(C). An appellate court has also held that the recorded conversation of poor audio quality with at least some audible words can potentially violate the wiretapping statute. Commonwealth v. Wright, 814 N.E.2d 741 (Mass. App. Ct. 2004). The all-party consent rule seemingly applies whether the conversation is held in private or a public location. See Commonwealth v. Manzelli, 864 N.E.2d 566 (Mass. App. Ct. 2007)(protester arrested for secretly audio taping conversation with police officer at a publicly held political rally).

Electronic communications: Similarly, the statute makes it a felony to intercept or record any telephone or wire communication using any device unless all parties give their consent. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99(C).

Hidden cameras: A person cannot photograph, videotape or use any electronic device to secretly observe another person in the nude without consent in areas where the subject would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 105.

Criminal penalties: Illegally eavesdropping on an oral or telephone conversation is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to five years. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99(C). Disclosing or using the contents of such communications is a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment for up to two years. Id. Secretly videotaping or taking photos of another person in the nude without consent is punishable by imprisonment of up to two-and-a-half years and a $5,000 fine. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 105(b). Distribution of such photos is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 105(c).

Civil suits: The court may award actual and punitive damages, as well as reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs, to anyone whose private communications were recorded or disclosed in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99(Q).

Disclosing recordings: The state also prohibits the disclosure or use of the contents of an illegally recorded conversation, when accompanied by the knowledge that it was obtained illegally. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272 , § 99(C). Distributing videos or photos in violation of the state’s hidden camera laws is also prohibited. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 105(c).