The federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2510 et seq., prohibits the willful interception of telephone communication by means of any electronic, mechanical, or other device without an applicable exemption. There are two principal exceptions:
Consent: In the absence of more restrictive state law, it is permissible to intercept and record a telephone conversation if one or both of the parties to the call consents. Consent means authorization by only one participant in the call; single-party consent is provided for by specific statutory exemption under federal law. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2511(2)(d).
The "business telephone" exception, which generally allows monitoring of calls and taping over an extension phone which is both provided to a subscriber in the ordinary course of a telephone company's business and is being used by that subscriber in the ordinary course of its business. This provision generally permits businesses to monitor the conversations of their employees, including personal conversations.
Penalties: The federal statutes provide criminal penalties for unlawful interception of telephone conversations, including up to five years' imprisonment or a maximum of $10,000 in fines. They also allow for civil remedies, by which private parties are entitled to recover actual and punitive damages, together with fees and costs.
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