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Can I tape record a conversation without someone knowing it?


Please read the Nov. 11, 2011, update to this post.

And a couple other variations library reference staff hear a lot:

Is it Lawful to Record Someone Without their Knowledge?
Can I tape record a conversation without someone knowing it?
Can I videotape someone without getting their consent?

Does Oregon have any eavesdropping laws?

Two recent stories in the news will give you an idea why there is not always a simple answer.

Both these stories are from Oregonlive and at issue is ORS 165.540 (but see also 165.535 Definitions applicable to obtaining contents of communications. As used in ORS 41.910, 133.723, 133.724, 165.540 and 165.545:…)

1) “Man threatens suit over seizure of videocamera after he tapes Portland police rousting two men, by Aimee Green, The Oregonian, Tuesday September 16, 2008, 10:29 PM

After Mike Tabor turned his videocamera on two Portland cops rousting a couple of men on a downtown sidewalk, one cop seized his camera and gave him a ticket, saying he’d broken the law by recording the officers without their permission….

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, and now Tabor is trying to force the Portland Police Bureau to take a formal position on whether it’s OK for civilians to videotape cops — with sound — in public places….

Deputy city attorney Dave Woboril said he’ll review the incident, but said that Oregon’s law is “pretty complicated.” Woboril said his reading of the statute is that people can’t surreptitiously make an audio recording of others who think their conversations are private. But Woboril said most people assume that someone holding a videocamera out in the open is recording sound as well as video. In general, he believes civilians have the right to record officers in public places in that way.

In 1991, then-police chief Tom Potter issued a training bulletin stating that the public had the right to record video and audio of police arresting suspects in a public place. Woboril, Schmautz and Police Chief Rosie Sizer weren’t aware of the bulletin, but Tabor’s attorney, Haile, dug up it up in his research…. “ (link to full article)

2) “No trial for man who taped pal’s arrest: Beaverton – Ho Xent Vang, 27, will not be prosecuted for recording the police, Thursday, September 18, 2008, by John Snell

BEAVERTON — The city will not pursue charges against a man arrested last month for using his cell phone to record the police arresting his friend at a bowling alley.

The decision not to prosecute Ho Xent Vang, 27, of Aloha was made not because he had a right to record the arrest, but because the sound on the recording was so poor it didn’t violate the police officers’ privacy, Beaverton city attorney Alan Rappleyea said Wednesday.

Rappleyea cited ORS 165.540 as the basis for Vang’s original arrest. The Oregon law makes it illegal to produce an audio recording of a person who is not informed that he or she is being recorded. The law allows an exception when a person does not have a reasonable expectation that his privacy would be respected.

Rappleyea said city prosecutor Tim Kempton determined the police legally were justified in arresting Vang. However, after reviewing the recording, Kempton concluded that the quality of the audio recording was so poor it might not constitute a violation of the law.

Only the audio part of the recording is covered by the law, officials have maintained. ” (link to full article)

(Note about finding old news stories: If a link to a news story doesn’t work, it may be that the news source does not maintain free archives of its back issues. Many public libraries, however, have newspaper databases that can be searched free of charge, often remotely (i.e. from any computer, with your library card). I try to provide enough bibliographic data to enable you to search those newspaper databases successfully.)

The information provided on the Oregon Legal Research blog is for research purposes only. We do not provide legal advice, nor do we endorse any person, product, or company.

It is against state law for library staff members to engage in any conduct that might constitute the unauthorized practice of law (ORS 9.160, 9.166 and 9.21). They may not interpret statutes, cases or regulations, perform legal research, recommend or assist in the preparation of forms, or advise patrons regarding their legal rights. They may, however, assist patrons in locating materials or links that would aid in individual research.

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2 responses to “Can I tape record a conversation without someone knowing it?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Vidio of public servants in puplic is not a crime. Persons should video & audio record their interactions with police to eliminate he said/she said and make a perfect record for future procedings. This can and will keep everyone true to what accured should memory fail as it often does.

  2. I did not know that after taking photos, of rented property tap water well having floating dead rats in it, uncovered dirt hole with no secured cover, that I had inadvertently pushed record button. I accidentally recorded conversation with property owner acknowledging well problems. This was apparent that I did not realize I was recording.
    Can I use video to show water dept. Investigators? Or is accidentally recording illegal in Oregon?

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