Washington Recording Law

Note: This page covers information specific to Washington. For general information concerning the use of recording devices see the Recording Phone Calls, Conversations, Meetings and Hearings section of this guide.

Washington Wiretapping Law

Washington's wiretapping law is a "two-party consent" law. Washington makes it a crime to intercept or record a private telephone call, in-person conversation, or electronic communication unless all parties to the communication consent. See Wash. Rev. Code § 9.73.030(1). Whether a conversation or other communications is "private" depends on a number of case-specific factors, such as the subjective intention of the parties, the reasonableness of their expectation that the conversation would be private, the location of the conversation, and whether third parties were present. State v. Townsend, 57 P.3d 255, 259 (Wash. 2002). You should always get the consent of all parties before recording any conversation that common sense tells you is private.

In Washington, you can satisfy the consent requirement by "announc[ing] to all other parties engaged in the communication or conversation, in any reasonably effective manner, that such communication or conversation is about to be recorded or transmitted," so long as this announcement is also recorded. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.73.030(3). In addition, an employee of a "regularly published newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio station, or television station acting in the course of bona fide news gathering duties on a full-time or contractual or part-time basis" can establish the consent of the party recorded even without an announcement if he or she uses a recording or transmitting device that is "readily apparent or obvious to the speakers." Wash. Rev. Code § 9.73.030(4).

The language of this consent provision suggests that it probably does not apply to an employee of an online publication or a non-professional journalist who is not employed by a media outlet on a full-time, part-time, or contractual basis. This limitation may be of little importance, however, because Washington courts have held -- in a non-media context -- that a person will be deemed to have consented to having his or her communication recorded when he or she conveys a message knowing that it will be recorded. See In re Marriage of Farr, 940 P.2d 679 (Wash. App. 1997) (speaker consented when leaving a message on a telephone answering machine, the only function of which is to record messages); Townsend, 57 P.3d at 260 (person sending email consented to its recording because he "had to understand that computers are, among other things, a message recording device and that his e-mail messages would be recorded on the computer of the person to whom the message was sent").

In addition to subjecting you to criminal prosecution, violating the wiretapping law can expose you to a civil lawsuit for damages by an injured party. See Wash. Rev. Code § 9.73.060.

Consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Can We Tape?: Washington for more information on Washington wiretapping law.

Washington Law on Recording Court Hearings and Public Meetings

Court Hearings

Washington state courts generally permit the use of recording devices in the courtroom, although the presiding judge must give express permission before recording and may impose limitations when it would be distracting to the participants or impair the dignity of the proceedings. In 1963, Washington State lawyers, judges, and members of the press formed the Bench-Bar-Press Committee, which seeks to foster better relationships between the bench and the press. The Committee publishes an annual report that may be of interest.

Federal courts in Washington are part of the Ninth Circuit. In Ninth Circuit appellate proceedings, cameras and recording devices are permitted at the discretion of the presiding panel of judges. To get permission, you need to file an Application for Permission to Photograph, Record, or Broadcast from the Courtroom three days in advance, although the panel can waive the advance notice requirement. Recording devices and cameras generally are prohibited in federal district courts in Washington.

For information on your right of access to court proceedings, please consult the Access to Government Information section of the guide.

Public Meetings

Washington law allows you to use sound and video recording devices at public meetings (i.e., meetings of a governmental body required to be open to the public by law), unless they disrupt the orderly conduct of the meeting.

For information on your right of access to public meetings, please consult the Access to Government Information section of this guide and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Open Government Guide: Washington.


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