Rhode Island

Date: 
August 1, 2012

Summary of statute(s): An individual who is a party to either an in-person conversation or electronic communication, or who has the consent of one of the parties to the communication, can lawfully record it, unless the person is doing so for the purpose of committing a criminal or tortious act. A person also can lawfully disclose the contents of face-to-face conversations or electronic communications that have become common knowledge or public information. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-35-21 (2012).

In-person conversations: The consent of at least one party to a conversation is required to record an “oral communication,” which is defined as “any oral communication uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that the communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying that expectation, but the term does not include any electronic communication.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-5.1-1. Thus, a journalist does not need consent to record conversations in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

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 “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. Id.

Hidden cameras: It is a crime to photograph or record the “intimate areas” of a person in a place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, to disclose any images obtained by these means, and to look into and take images of, “for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or stimulation,” the interior of an occupied dwelling. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-64-2. 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: One who illegally records an in-person conversation or electronic communication faces a maximum of five years imprisonment. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-35-21.

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, attorney’s fees and court costs as well. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-5.1-13.

Disclosing recordings: One who discloses the contents of a wire, electronic or oral communication obtained through illegal recording faces a maximum of five years imprisonment. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-35-21.