August 1, 2012

Summary of statute(s): An individual who is a party to an electronic communication, or who has the consent of one of the parties to the communication, can lawfully record it or disclose its contents. But a lawful recording of an in-person conversation requires that all parties be informed, except under certain circumstances. A person also can lawfully record electronic communications that are readily accessible to the general public. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 165.540 (West 2012).

In-person conversations: It is unlawful to record a “conversation,” which is defined as “the transmission between two or more persons of an oral communication which is not a telecommunication or a radio communication,” unless all participants to the conversation are specifically informed that it is being recorded. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 165.535, 165.540. The prohibition does not apply, however, to individuals who record with an unconcealed recording device statements that are part of any of the following proceedings: 1) public or semipublic meetings, such as hearings before governmental or quasi-governmental bodies, trials, press conferences, public speeches, rallies and sporting or other events; 2) regularly scheduled classes or similar educational activities in public or private institutions; or 3) private meetings or conferences if all others involved knew or reasonably should have known that the recording was being made. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 165.540. A state appellate court held that the all-party notification required to record an in-person conversation did not impermissibly burden the news media in violation of the First Amendment because it did not restrict a journalist’s right to communicate with individuals or gather news. Oregon v. Knobel, 777 P.2d 985 (Or. Ct. App. 1989).

Electronic communications: The consent of at least one party to any telephone communication is required to record it. And because the provision of the statute dealing with wireless communications applies to the transmission of “writing, signs, signals, pictures and sounds of all kinds,” consent likewise is required to disclose the contents of text messages sent between wireless devices. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 165.535, 165.540.

Hidden cameras: It is a misdemeanor to photograph or record a person “in a state of nudity” in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 163.700. The law, however, does not criminalize the use of recording devices for other purposes in areas to which the public has access or there is no reasonable expectation of privacy (i.e., filming conversations on public streets or a hotel lobby).

Criminal penalties: Illegally recording an in-person conversation or electronic communication is a misdemeanor offense. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 165.540.

Civil suits: Anyone whose wire, electronic or oral communication has been recorded or disclosed in violation of the law can bring a civil suit to recover the greater of actual damages, $100 a day for each day of violation or $1,000, and can recover punitive damages and attorney’s fees as well. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 133.739.

Disclosing recordings: Disclosing the contents of an in-person conversation or electronic communication obtained through illegal recording is a misdemeanor. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 165.540.