Business Law Civil Litigation Criminal Law Legal Topics

Wiretapping with an iPhone

New technology, same law. As reported by, the Second District Court of Appeal has held that when one party to a conversation uses an iPhone to secretly record the conversation, it does not violate the Wiretap Act as long as the recording is done for legitimate purposes. This ruling (.pdf) is consistent with those of other circuits, including the Ninth Circuit, that have tackled similar issues.  

The federal Wiretap Act prohibits the intentional interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications. See 18 USC §2511(1)(a). The ban extends to “bugging” or tape recording a conversation when the parties justifiably expect that their conversation will not be intercepted. Katz v U.S. (1967) 389 US 347, 352, 19 L Ed 2d 576, 582, 88 S Ct 507.

 There is a major exception to wiretapping ban: A person not acting under state law who is a party to the communication does not violate the Wiretap Act by intercepting a wire, oral, or electronic communication “unless such communication is intercepted for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution or law of the United States or of any State.” 18 USC §2511(2)(d). Basically, the party to the conversation does not violate the Act by secretly recording it unless he or she intends to use the recording to commit a tort of crime beyond the act of recording itself. The Second Circuit based its iPhone ruling on this exception and found no such nefarious purpose.

Please note that the ruling here was under the federal Wiretap Act, and that California law governing electronic eavesdropping and wiretapping, the Invasion of Privacy Act (Pen C §§630-638), differs from the federal scheme.

 For more on the Wiretap Act, including defenses and remedies under the Act, check out CEB’s California Business Litigation, §§9.19-9.21 (Cal CEB 2002) and Privacy Compliance and Litigation in California, §§4.42-4.45 (Cal CEB 2008).

© The Regents of the University of California, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

5 replies on “Wiretapping with an iPhone”

Better watch out for state law before trying this! In a two-party consent state, you would be committing an illegal act to record a conversation with any device without the consent of all parties — even if you are one of the parties!

Add your comment to the blog post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s