August 1, 2012

Summary of statute(s): Michigan prohibits the recording, interception, use or disclosure of any conversation, whether in person, telephone or via any electronic or computer-based communication system, 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 give consent before one can record any private oral conversation. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539c. The eavesdropping statute has been interpreted by one court as applying only to situations in which a third party has intercepted a communication. This interpretation allows a participant in a conversation to record that conversation without the permission of other parties. Sullivan v. Gray, 324 N.W.2d 58 (Mich. Ct. App. 1982).

Electronic communications: Similarly, the statute makes it a felony to “make any unauthorized connection with any telephone or electronic communication using any device unless all parties give their consent.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.540. Because the statute dealing with electronic communications applies to the Internet or computer-based communication system, consent likewise is likely required to disclose the contents of text or e-mail messages sent between wireless devices. Id.

Hidden cameras: It is a felony to observe, photograph, record or eavesdrop on a person in a private place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from surveillance or intrusion without the person’s consent. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539d. Filming on public streets and parks, for instance, would not subject a person to liability under this law. Neither would recording in an area where access is granted to a substantial portion of the public, such as a hotel lobby. See definition “Private place,” Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539a.

Criminal penalties: Illegal eavesdropping can be punished as a felony carrying a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to $2,000. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539c. Anyone who divulges information they know or reasonably should know was obtained through illegal eavesdropping or video surveillance is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of up to $2,000. Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.539c, -d.

Civil suits: The court may award injunctive relief, as well as actual and punitive damages to anyone whose private communications were recorded or disclosed in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539h.

Disclosing recordings: It is illegal to distribute, disseminate or transmit a recording, photograph or visual image — as well as the contents of any intercepted oral or electronic communication — which a person knows or reasonably should know was obtained through illegal eavesdropping. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539d, -e.