Penal Code 631 PC | Wiretapping

Penal Code 631 PC – Wiretapping

Wiretapping laws in California can be super confusing. I want to break it down for you in simple terms. The main law that covers wiretapping in California is Penal Code 631 PC. This law makes it illegal to intentionally tap into or record certain communications without consent from all parties involved. Let’s dig into the nitty gritty details.

What is Considered Wiretapping Under PC 631?

There’s a few types of communications that are protected under this law:

  • Telephone calls
  • In-person conversations
  • Text messages
  • Emails

So if you record or eavesdrop on any of those without permission, you could be charged with wiretapping. There’s also something called “electronic communication” which basically means any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence transmitted by electronic or electromagnetic systems. That’s a mouthful, but it includes things like faxes, video chats, voicemails, etc.

When is Recording Legal in California?

Now, there are definitely situations where you can legally record conversations in California. Here’s a few examples:

  • If you’re an actual party to the conversation – so both people know it’s being recorded
  • If you get consent from all parties before recording
  • Police officers recording during an investigation
  • Recording conversations that are open to the public, like speeches

There’s also an exception if you have a reasonable suspicion that the other person is committing extortion, kidnapping, bribery, or other violent crimes. But you need some solid evidence to back up those suspicions before going that route.

Penalties for Violating PC 631

If you’re convicted of illegal wiretapping in California, here’s the penalties you could face:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine up to $2,500
  • Both jail time and a fine

And if the illegal recording was done for financial gain or to commit another crime, it becomes a wobbler offense. That means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. Felony charges can lead to 2-3 years in state prison. Yikes!

Real World Examples

Let’s look at some real cases to understand how these laws play out in the real world:

People v. Nakai

In 2010, a man named Nakai was charged under PC 631 for recording personal conversations with his ex-girlfriend without her consent. Even though he was a party to the conversations, the court said he still needed consent to record them. Nakai claimed the recordings were just for his own personal use. But the court said that was still illegal under California’s wiretapping law. He was convicted of a misdemeanor violation.

Luis v. Zang

In this case from 2013, a woman named Luis sued her boss Zang for secretly recording their meetings without Luis’ consent. Zang claimed there was no expectation of privacy since it was a business meeting. But the court disagreed. They said Zang violated PC 631 and owed damages to Luis for the illegal recordings.

How Can You Avoid Breaking the Law?

Hopefully this breakdown makes California’s wiretapping laws a bit easier to understand. The main takeaway is that you need consent from all parties before recording personal communications that they would reasonably expect to be private. If your not sure if a recording is legal, it’s better to play it safe and get consent from everyone involved. And definitely don’t try to record to gain an advantage in domestic disputes or business dealings. That can lead to big fines or jail time. Let me know if you have any other questions!


People v. Nakai (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 499

Luis v. Zang (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 878