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Some of the most attentive students can miss an important point during a class or lecture. Then there are parents who are worried about what a teacher is saying or doing in their child's classroom. Recording is easier than ever before -- digital recorders are small and inexpensive, and every cell phone has multiple recording options.
As it turns out, however, many states have laws prohibiting recording someone without their consent. But does this extend to teachers and classrooms?
No, you're not tapping someone's phone, but the same laws generally apply to recording oral communications. While federal law allows for recordings as long as one party to the conversation consents (known as "one-party consent"), several states have stricter recording laws. California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require every party to a conversation to consent to recording (known as "two-party consent").
Most states make illegal recordings a felony. For instance Florida's wiretap law makes illegal recordings a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
If you live in a one-party consent state, you're probably not violating any laws by recording a teacher or professor as long as you are present in the class, since you're a party to the conversation and given your consent to be recording. However, there may be state or local laws specific to in-school recordings that could apply.
If you're in a two-party consent state, you are placing a secret recorder on your child, or the conversation is being held in a private setting like an office, the law is less clear.
Exceptions to the Rule
The easiest way to deal with laws against secret recordings is to make them not secret. If you'd like to record a professor's lecture, you can ask for permission. Most professors allow recording and some even record lectures themselves and make the video or audio available.
If you're being more surreptitious with your recordings, the law gets a little fuzzier, and whether the recording is legal may depend on where you live. While Florida is a two-party consent state, courts don't apply the law to recordings made in a party's place of business. Therefore, even secret classroom recordings without a teacher's consent were found to not be illegal.
So before recording a teacher or professor for any reason, you may want to check with them first, or consult with an experienced attorney to avoid violating the law.