Reporter's Recording Guide
Last updated June 2020Compare
An individual who is a party to an in-person, telephone or electronic conversation, or who has the consent of one of the parties to the conversation, can lawfully record it, unless the person is doing so for the purpose of committing a criminal or tortious act. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-601.Compare
The consent of at least one party to a conversation is required to record “any oral communication uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that the communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying that expectation.” Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-601, 40-6-303. Thus, consent is not required to record conversations in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.Compare
Telephone and electronic communications
The consent of at least one party to any telephone conversation, including one transmitted by cellphone, is required to record it. And because the provision of the law 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. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-6-303, 39-13-604.Compare
It is a misdemeanor to photograph or record a person without consent “for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification” in a place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and if the photograph or recording “would offend or embarrass an ordinary person” who appeared in it. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-605.
Disclosing any photograph or recording taken by these means is a felony. Id. 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 (e.g., filming conversations on public streets or in a hotel lobby).Compare
Illegally recording an in-person, telephone or electronic conversation is a felony offense. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-602.Compare
Anyone whose in-person, telephone or electronic conversation 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 $10,000, and can also recover punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs. In addition, anyone whose oral, telephone or electronic conversation is or is about to be disclosed in violation of the law may seek to enjoin and restrain the disclosure. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-603.Compare
Disclosing the contents of an in-person, telephone or electronic conversation obtained through illegal recording is a felony. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-602.
If a journalist received an illegally recorded conversation and was not involved in the illegal conduct, the First Amendment likely protects the publication of such material, to the extent it is a matter of public concern and truthful. See Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001). For more information, see this guide’s introductory chapter here.Compare
Right to record government officials in public
A growing consensus of courts have recognized a constitutional right to record government officials engaged in their duties in a public place. This First Amendment right to record generally encompasses both video and audio recording. For more information on the right to record broadly, see this guide’s introductory chapter here.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which includes Tennessee, has not yet directly addressed the First Amendment right to record.Compare