Legislator Introduces Bill To Legalize Recording Of Conversations With Feds

from the has-its-problems,-but-still-an-improvement dept

"Accountability" is a word often tossed around by government officials in an effort to appear trustworthy and genuine. However, this is seldom followed up by action. Everyone agrees it's a fine principle, but far too idealistic to apply to the realities of governing, apparently. Rep. Lynn Jenkins seems to both 1) believe the government needs more accountability and 2) be willing to do something about it.

On Wednesday, Jenkins introduced legislation that she says would expand the rights of Americans to record their conversations with federal employees. Under current law, people are only able to lawfully record certain in-person conversations with IRS officials.

But under Jenkins proposal, that law would be expanded to allow people to record both in-person and phone conversations with most agencies in the executive branch. It would also require these government officials to tell people they have the right to record these conversations.
Jenkins' bill would cover conversations with personnel from a large number of agencies that fall under the "executive agency" label, which would include agencies from the Dept. of Justice and Dept. of Defense, among others.

The specifications of the bill allow individuals to record what could be loosely termed "protective" recordings -- the sort of recording that would prevent "he said/agency said" discrepancies further down the road.
Any employee of an Executive agency who is conducting an in-person or a telephonic interview, audit, investigation, inspection, or other official in-person or telephonic interaction with an individual, relating to a possible or alleged violation of any Federal statute or regulation that could result in the imposition of a fine, forfeiture of property, civil monetary penalty, or criminal penalty against, or the collection of an unpaid tax, fine, or penalty from, such individual or a business owned or operated by such individual, shall allow such individual to make an audio recording of such in-person or telephonic interaction at the individual’s own expense and with the individual’s own equipment.
This would seem to cover conversations with such federal agencies as the ATF, DEA and the especially recording-shy FBI, the latter of which still prefers to use its own pen-and-paper accounts of "interviews." Unfortunately, even though these agencies (along with the DHS) fall under the "executive agency" banner, the bill's list of exceptions would seem to make almost every conversation with these agencies off limits.
EXCEPTIONS.—

(1) CLASSIFIED INFORMATION, PUBLIC SAFETY, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION.—This section shall not apply to any in-person or telephonic interaction—

(A) that is likely to include the discussion of classified material;
(B) that is likely to include the discussion of information that, if released publicly, would endanger public safety; or
(C) that, if released, would endanger an ongoing criminal investigation if such investigation is being conducted by a Federal law enforcement officer (as defined by section 2 of the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery Act of 2008) who is employed by a Federal law enforcement agency.
The "endanger public safety" exception is nothing more than an out for any agency remotely concerned with "fighting terrorism." This pretty much allows the DHS to prevent recording of conversations, even if the subject matter would seem to be completely unrelated to terrorist activity. Furthermore, the wording allows ANY agency to decide what will or won't "endanger" the general public, with the likelihood being that most conversations carry that potential.

The FBI (along with the ATF, DEA and others) will be able to use exception (C) to prevent recordings, as almost all of these agencies' conversations will pertain to some sort of ongoing investigation.

Jenkin's bill may push accountability on some federal agencies, but the ones with the most worrying track records probably won't feel a thing. It would be extremely tough to sell this bill without the exceptions, but their inclusion severely undercuts the stated aim.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Alana (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 7:34pm

    How long till it gets shot down?

     

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  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 7:42pm

    Re:

    Actually, given the giant loopholes in it that appear to make it worth less than the paper it's written on, I imagine they'll let it pass for the good PR, and then just invoke the exceptions anytime they don't want to be recorded.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 8:23pm

    You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

    Well America, we've become the villain. Our government is now acting like the very same people we fought in our (declared) wars.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 8:40pm

    Why have that conversation at all?

    Am I the only person wondering why government agencies would be talking about "classified material", "information that, if released publicly, would endanger public safety", or information that "would endanger an ongoing criminal investigation" with a private citizen?

    Haven't they already let the cat out of the bag by discussing it with that person, who is under no obligation to keep anything secret? What's the harm in the recording, at that point?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 3:01am

    Re: Why have that conversation at all?

    It is harder to paint a recording as a raving lunatic, when reporting to the upper echelons about cases.

    At the same time, they cannot redact information they do not want in the public hands.
    Often investigations involve keeping secret certain evidence that only the criminal would know about, to better be able to remove overclaimers. It is a fact that word of mouth is a very distortive and crude way of spreading information. A recording is neither crude nor distortive...

     

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  6.  
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    The Real Michael, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 4:30am

    How generous...

    So let me get this straight. We live in a (supposedly) free society wherein the NSA spies on all our communications, violating our Constitutional rights without reprisal, yet for some unfathomable reason we require the government's permission in order to record a conversation with federal employees in the executive branch? Yeah, that makes sense, about as much as getting beat up at school, having your lunch money stolen and then being handed a lollipop.

    To hell with that. Give back what you unrightfully stole.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 6:35am

    Re: How generous...

    They hate us for our freedom

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 8:07am

    There already is a federal law...

    Although some states require both parties of a conversation to be aware that one party is recording the conversation, federal law provides that only one party has to be aware which means you have a right to record it even if they do not know you are recording it. What you are able to do with it afterwards is another matter altogether, but as far as making the recording in the first place, you have every right to make it.

     

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  9.  
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    Votre (profile), Jul 20th, 2013 @ 8:49am

    Another paper tiger.

    Just like the HIPAA 'privacy'rules that were supposed to protect medical information and prevent companies from freely exchanging your data - and do anything but.

    About all HIPAA really accomplishes is making it very difficult for a worried family to find out what happened - or establish which ER their loved one has been taken to.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 9:27am

    In other words, more feel-good sound-good crap that will mean nothing.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 11:50am

    Re:

    don't you mean, the government has become the villain. our government hasn't represented our interests in a very long time.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 11:52am

    Re: How generous...

    I don't need permission. if someone from the government is calling me, I simply start recording and inform them that this call is being recorded and monitored for review. If you wish not to be recorded, simply hang the phone up. And then I ask, what is the purpose of this phone call.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 11:56am

    I don't know what everyone's hang up is. I simply do not need nor require permission to record any conservation. If someone is calling me on my home phone or cell phone, and I don't wish to speak to them, I simply lead with the statement:

    "This phone call is being recorded for prosperity and for review. Because YOU have placed this call, I am under no obligations to stop recording or to send you copies of this recording. If you do not wish this phone call to be recorded, simply end your phone call."

    'nuff said

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 12:00pm

    Re: There already is a federal law...

    I'm sorry but any state law requiring that both parties be informed automatically supersedes the default federal one-person requirement if either party to the "conversation" is within the bounds of said two-person state.

     

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  15.  
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    RD, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 12:19pm

    Re: How generous...

    Or stated another way: When in the hell did it come to pass that the *government* has more rights than its *citizens*?

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: How generous...

    so true!!

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 2:23pm

    Re: Re: How generous...

    Because it's that whole "we're the dictator and you're the willing peasants" type of democracy.

    Democrats idea of "democracy" is to beat its people with it until they submit. How else do you explain the whole Obama Administration attitude when the spying scandal exploded.

     

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  18.  
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    Atkray (profile), Jul 20th, 2013 @ 5:02pm

    ¿Exception for classified info?

    Can't we just automatically fire anyone in any of these agencies that is discussing classified information on an unsecured phone line?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 6:30pm

    Re: Re: There already is a federal law...

    The point is the Feds already allow you to record any conversation you have by federal law. That includes conversations with them.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 6:32pm

    Re: Re: There already is a federal law...

    And not in my state. Texas is a one party state.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 6:45pm

    Re: Why have that conversation at all?

    Keeping someone from recording any conversation that they are involved in is unenforceable anyway. They can try to restrict what you can do with the recording once you have it but trying to keep you from recording it at all is a fool's errand. Especially if you don't tell them you are recording it in the first place.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 6:54pm

    Re: Re: There already is a federal law...

    And you are wrong about that too. California law (for instance because it is a two party state) does not apply to someone physically in another state like Texas. If I want to record a conversation I have with someone in California without telling them there is nothing they can do. Furthermore, that conversation classifies as interstate commerce which only Congress can regulate, not any of the states. State laws do not apply.

     

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  23.  
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    Aidian Holder, Jul 20th, 2013 @ 11:35pm

    Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, lou

    California supreme court has specifically held that a call with one end in California is governed by the California 'two party' consent law (and, typical for Cali., a poorly written, vague, and overreaching version of a two-party consent law at that).

    Other state courts have made similar rulings; I can think of at least one off the top of my head and I'm sure there are a few others.

    I can not recall any specific court ruling that went the other direction, holding that a call between a one-party state and a two party state was governed by the rules of the one party state. Doesn't mean there hasn't been one, just that I haven't hear about it.

     

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  24.  
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    The Real Michael, Jul 21st, 2013 @ 4:22am

    Re: Re: How generous...

    When they decided that they were going to *act* as our benevolent protectors.

    The IRS wants to protect us from our money.
    The NSA wants to protect us from our privacy.
    The TSA wants to protect us from the 4th Amendment.
    The DHS wants to protect us from freedom.
    Etc.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2013 @ 4:43pm

    Re: Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, lou

    There is a distinction between if its legal to record the conversation and what you can do with it. Given that its interstate commerce, I don't see how California would have a leg to state on if they wanted to criminally charge the out-of-state individual. OTOH, California courts could certainly refuse to admit into evidence such a recording.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2013 @ 5:55pm

    Re: Re: Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, lou

    You are correct. California laws cannot be applied to someone in Texas and vice versa. Furthermore, since it is a matter of interstate commerce, the federal law is all that matters.

     

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  27.  
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    Aidian Holder, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, lou

    The California Supreme Court apparently believes the state's laws apply to any call where at least one party is in the state. The case is Kearney vs. Solomon Smith Barney.

    Outside Cali, the picture gets more muddled, and there's apparently no clear case law saying if and when federal law controls.

    If you doubt me, I would respectfully suggest two minutes on Google.

    I don't see how California would have a leg to [stand] on...

    In my experience, whether the state has a logical, legal, or moral leg to stand on or not has little to do with the actions and policies of state government.

     

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  28.  
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    jonsnow, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:50am

    recording of phone calls for civilians

    I believe the government will do what they want to do regarding recording conversations. It is interesting to know the law regarding civilians. In 11 states it requires consent of both parties of a conversation/phone to record the call while in other states, its sufficient to have one party consent. I know of a website named Recordator which allows recording of phone calls without additional hassles.

     

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  29.  
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    Mike Raffety (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 11:18am

    The bill is HR 2711

    You can find it on Popvox here:

    https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/113/hr2711

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 2:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, lou

    The only reason why they could be held liable is that the company had offices in California as well. It's like state sales tax. When a company does business (ie. has offices and or stores) in a state, they are bound by the laws of that state just as are the residents of that state. They have to charge sales tax for applicable products the sell in that state to residents of that state. However, for a person who doesn't live in that state and isn't in that state ordering something trough the mail, California state sales tax isn't applicable to non-residents ordering from out of state. I don't live in California, don't do any business there, don't own property their and basically have no personal ties whatsoever to the state apart from knowing a few people who live there. If I decided to call someone there from Texas and record the call without telling them there is absolutely nothing in California law applicable to me. That was not the case with Soloman Smith Barney.

     

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  31.  
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    Old Poor Richard, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:07pm

    Alternative Suggestion

    Those loopholes for public safety and criminal investigation are nonsense. If I can simply recall the conversation verbatim, then I can record it with no worse impact on public safety or on an investigation.

    This is all about non-repudiation. Government dirtbags want to retain the ability to lie and deny and plant doubt about what was really said during a conversation.

    Talking out the other side of their mouths, we know that cops frequently engage in illegal warrantless wiretaps, and then a cop who listens to the illegal wiretap poses as a faux "informant" claiming to be privy to that conversation except as a witness who testi-lies in an affidavit which then is used to secure a warrant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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