“The Soul Mate” – Recording Conversations

When Wyck clears his throat before referring to Susan’s death as her “unfortunate accident,” George takes that to mean that Wyck was implying that he killed Susan. In order to discover if the board is talking about him behind his back, George takes a page from Jerry Lewis’ playbook and “accidentally” leaves a briefcase with a running tape recorder inside of it at the next Susan Ross foundation meeting. Did George violate the law by surreptitiously recording the meeting without telling anyone?

There are both State and Federal laws regulating how to legally record a conversation. While some states require that all parties being recorded grant consent to the recording, New York state is a one party consent state; i.e. as a long as one party knows that the conversation is being recorded, it is legal. This is opposed to other states that require both parties know that they are being recorded, and consent to it. The Federal law is similar to New York state. Only one party has to know about the recording.

But that is not the case here. The careful Seinfeld-watched will note that George leaves the briefcase behind, and is not actually part of the meeting while the tape is being recorded. While he starts the recording when he is there, as soon as he leaves he is acting like a 3rd party recorder and is no longer actually a party to the conversation. The rumple here is that had George actually stayed for the meeting and participated in it, then he would have fulfilled the requirements of the law. Since he is not present for the recording, it would seem to be that he is violating both New York State and Federal Law when he conducts this recording of the Susan Ross Foundation.

George’s best defense would be to cry out DEAR GOD and argue that while it is true that he did not have consent by anyone to conduct the recording, he should not be legally liable because there was no reasonable expectation of privacy since there were multiple people at the meeting. If there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, then the law does not apply. When anyone could have heard the conversation anyway, there is no legal problem with recording it. Since there were so many people in the room, none of them could expect any privacy and therefore George should not be in trouble for his recording. Any attempt to put George in legal liability would just be intimidation and manipulation!

I believe that I'm about to become the target...

However, George’s argument is likely fail. Even though there were multiple people in the meeting, it certainly should not be considered public. The reasonable expectation of privacy principle holds here because it was a closed door, private meeting amongst a select group of people. Courts have granted leniency on this issue if the conversation took place in an actual public space, like a park, where the third party recorder was within ear shot of the conversation. But it would be hard to analogize a meeting of the Ross Foundation to such a scenario.

Ultimately, George’s actions speak volumes! He is likely to have legal liability for surreptitiously, and without consent, recording the meeting. Had he stayed in the meeting then George would be ok by New York and Federal law. But since he didn’t, all George can wait for now is for that other shoe to fall.

We've gotten to the bottom of that.

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