South Carolina

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. S.C. Code Ann. § 17-30-30 (2011).

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 the expectation and does not mean any public oral communication uttered at a public meeting or any electronic communication.” S.C. Code Ann. § 17-30-15. 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 misdemeanor to eavesdrop or be a “peeping tom” on the premises of another. A “peeping tom” is one who uses audio or video equipment to spy on or invade the privacy of others. The statute does not apply, however, to “any bona fide news gathering activities.” S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-470. A state appellate court found the “peeping tom” statute inapplicable to the conduct of newspaper reporters who tried to overhear city council proceedings during a closed executive session because the reporters were on public property — not the premises of another — and did nothing “to enable them to overhear what was going on in the executive session other than to wait in the place provided as a waiting room for reporters and other members of the public.” Neither the overhearing nor the publication of anything overheard violated the statute, according to the court in Herald Publishing Co., Inc. v. Barnwell, 351 S.E.2d 878 (S.C. Ct. App. 1986).

Criminal penalties: Illegally recording an in-person conversation or electronic communication is a felony offense. S.C. Code Ann. § 17-30-20.

Civil suits: Anyone whose wire, oral or electronic communication has been recorded or disclosed in violation of the law can bring a civil suit to recover the greater of actual damages, $500 a day for each day of violation or $25,000, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, court costs and other relief a judge deems appropriate. S.C. Code Ann. § 17-30-135.

Disclosing recordings: Disclosing the contents of a wire, oral or electronic communication obtained through illegal recording is a felony. S.C. Code Ann. § 17-30-20.