Recording Telephone Calls
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R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-35-21: State law expressly allows the recording and disclosure of the contents of any wire, oral or electronic communication by a party to the communication or with the prior consent of one of the parties, so long as no criminal or tortious purpose exists.
Under the statute, consent is not required for the taping of a non-electronic communication uttered by a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication. See definition of "oral communication," R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-5.1-1.
Illegal recording, or disclosing with reason to know of the illegal recording, carries a criminal penalty of not more than five years in prison, but no penalty can be imposed if the contents of the intercepted communication have become "common knowledge or public information." Civil liability is authorized for actual damages, $100 for each day of violation or $1,000 — whichever is greater. Punitive damages, attorney fees and litigation costs also are authorized. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-5.1-13.
The state's highest court has expressly recognized that the law allows the recording of conversations with the consent of one party only. Pulawski v. Blais, 506 A.2d 76 (R.I. 1986). The Supreme Court of Rhode Island has stated that Rhode Island's wiretapping laws should be interpreted more strictly than the federal wiretapping statute "in the interest of giving the full measure of protection to an individual's privacy." State v. O'Brien, 774 A.2d 89 (R.I. 2001).
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