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CAS Legal Mailbag – 11/17/22 – Education

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter

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Dear Legal Mailbag:

I am a high school principal, and I respect the value of technology integration in schools. That being said, I am getting tired of the misuse of cell phones by students and parents/guardians. More specifically, we have a growing suspicion that during meetings with the administration and with teachers, some students and some parents/guardians secretly record the conversations.

For example, I recently scheduled a meeting with a parent who was unhappy that I would not share possible disciplinary consequences for students who are not her children. When she entered my office, I opened the meeting with a friendly greeting, and then I declared, “I do not give you permission to record this meeting.” She was very unhappy with this and rather rudely stated that I was violating her rights. She stormed out of my office yelling that she was going to the Board of Education! Did I cross the line? In the future, am I allowed to declare that cell phones are not allowed in my office during meetings?

Signed,

Off the record

Best Off-the-Record:

Your meeting, your office, your rules. You may have a public relations problem, but you don’t have a legal problem. Legal Mailbag advises you whether to accept the rule you propose.

Given advances in technology, your concern is legitimate and widespread. Given the opportunities people now have to record others, with or without their consent, a brief overview of the applicable rules may be helpful.

The statute most directly relevant to your situation is the Wiretapping Statute, Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-187 through 53a-189. The Wiretapping Statute, passed in 1969, states that “a person is guilty of wiretapping when he unlawfully engages in eavesdropping or mechanical eavesdropping of a conversation.” The statute goes on to define “Mechanical eavesdropping” as the “intentional eavesdropping or recording of a conversation or discussion,
without the consent of at least one party thereto, by a person who is not present thereby means of any instrument, device or equipment.” (Emphasis added).

By defining the crime of “wiretapping” as excluding a situation in which at least one party is present and aware of the recording, the General Assembly excluded the situation you describe from the prohibition in this statute. Consequently, if the parent or student is aware that the conversation is being recorded, such recording does not violate the law.

There is another law, although not directly relevant to your question, that may be on your mind. When it comes to telephone communications, Connecticut is a “two-party” state, that is, it is illegal for one party to a telephone conversation to record it without the knowledge of the other party. Connecticut General Statutes § 52-570d is the Recording Statute establishes a private right of action against a person who “uses any instrument, device or equipment to record an oral private telephone communication” unless there is (1) consent of all participants are, (2) ) advance notice to all participants, or (3) a beep alerting all participants that the conversation is being recorded.

There are certainly a number of exceptions to the prohibition in this statute, including emergency personnel, law enforcement personnel, recipients of threats of extortion, bodily harm, or other unlawful requests or demands, or persons receiving calls that are “repeated or at an extremely inconvenient hour. ” However, these exceptions do not include calls from angry parents or others, and thus a person secretly recording a telephone conversation in Connecticut is subject to a suit by the person secretly recorded “to recover damages, together with costs and a reasonable attorney’s fee.” If you ever get blackmailed and want to sue, Legal Mailbag knows a good lawyer.

Finally, your question raises a question that is not strictly legal – should you adopt such a rule against cell phones in meetings with parents or students? You will be on solid ground if you accept such a rule. While you’re thinking about that, you might be interested in a high court decision from many years ago about a different but related situation.

In WVIT, Inc. f. Grey. 1996 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2841 (Supreme Court 1996), the plaintiff alleged that a news reporter secretly recorded conversations with her supervisor, both over the phone and in person. The defendant decided to stop on the grounds that the conversations were related to business and therefore could not unknowingly intrude on the privacy of the person being recorded.

The court rejected that argument, holding that the employer could sue for invasion of privacy for surreptitiously recording private personal conversations, even if they related to business matters, not purely private matters. The court based its conclusion on the appropriate standard for breach of privacy:

“One who intentionally, physically or otherwise, intrudes upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person be.” Restatement (Second) of Torts 652B (1977).

Given this standard, the court found as follows:

In summary, I conclude that a complaint alleging that an employee for personal reasons recorded conversations of a co-worker under the circumstances of this case states a cause of action for unreasonable invasion of the privacy of another by intruding make on their “person”. Such conduct is an affront to the average person’s sense of dignity and is “highly offensive” to a reasonable person by overstepping boundaries that deserve to be respected.

Similarly, one could argue that the secret recording of school administrators violates their rights as an actionable invasion of privacy. If you want to try to make new laws on this topic, Legal Mailbag knows a good lawyer. . .

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the topic. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular circumstances.

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