Before you hit record, know this: you might be committing a felony.
A Massachusetts woman who tried to record her arrest on her smartphone got another charge added to her rap sheet: wiretapping.
Springfield Police officers were on a routine patrol when they responded to a disturbance call and when the officers got on scene to investigate they found Karen Dziewit, and two other individuals, in the middle of the street causing a bit of a ruckus.
“She was uncooperative and became belligerent with the officers,” Captain Larry Brown, Springfield Police Commissioner’s operations lead told TheBlaze. “The other two subjects involved were cooperative and were trying to explain what was going on, but the female refused to calm down and cooperate and … ultimately that led to her arrest for disorderly (conduct).”
But just before she was taken into custody, Dziewit activated the voice control recording feature on her smartphone, and concealed it in her purse.
Her sneaky move was discovered when she was taken to police headquarters for booking. Officers inventoried the contents of her purse, and found the phone actively recording the entire process, according to Masslive.com. She was then booked for disorderly conduct, carrying an open container, and wiretapping.
“The real issue is the surreptitious nature of the recording,” Brown said. “We often have people record our actions, and if it is video it isn’t a problem, but because she hid it in her purse and it was an audio recording, it was a surreptitious recording.”
The seemingly-innocent act is actually a felony — one that could come with a hefty penalty; the 24-year-old now faces a possible 5-year prison sentence.
When TheBlaze asked Captain Brown why this act was considered wiretapping, he explained the law dates back to the heyday of organized crime investigations. If one person records another without their knowledge — and without a warrant — it’s considered wiretapping.
Though he said he’s only dealt with one other case of “this kind” of wiretapping charge before (and the case is still pending) Brown says he expects this problem to occur again since smartphones are so prevalent.
“Prior to the advent of smartphones and cell phones this really hadn’t become an issue,” Captain Brown said. “But hopefully a few people will be arrested and charged for it, and people will figure it out that this is illegal.”
So what if a person is being arrested and — as a safety measure let’s say — wants to record the process? Brown says in that case, in his department anyway, as long as the person lets the officers know, “it’s fine,” he said.
But Brown said the problem extends beyond police interactions; he even noted “we have a lower expectation of privacy because of our public positions,” and said he hopes people will pay attention to the potential civil headaches they could run into if they record co-workers, friends or neighbors without their knowledge. In Massachusetts — one of the ten states with the two-party consent rule — the civil violation is described this way:
“Any aggrieved person whose oral or wire communications were intercepted, disclosed or used except as permitted or authorized … or whose personal or property interests or privacy were violated by means of an interception … shall have a civil cause of action against any person who so intercepts, discloses or uses such communications or who so violates his personal, property or privacy interest.”
In Dziewit’s case, Brown said it will be up to the District Attorney’s office to determine whether they will prosecute the charge and seek a possible multi-year prison sentence. Dziewit’s next court date is July 8 for a pre-trial conference, and the DA’s office did not immediately respond to TheBlaze with their decision whether the wiretapping charge will be included.
So remember, even if your boss is being a jerk, think twice before hitting that record button on your next conversation.
Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.