Colorado recording law permits people to secretly record conversations they are participating in. It does not matter whether these conversations are in person or over the phone. But secretly recording other people’s conversations may qualify as criminal wiretapping or eavesdropping (CRS 18-9-303 – 304) depending on the circumstances.
Is recording in-person conversations legal in Colorado?
People in Colorado may secretly record their in-person conversations in Colorado. They can take audio or video recordings of a conversation they have with someone else, whether in private or a public place.
However, it is criminal eavesdropping for people not party to an in-person private conversation to record it without the consent of at least one person in the conversation.1 And the person(s) who consents to the recording of a conversation has to freely consent. It cannot be coerced or done under duress.2
Example: Larry meets a drug dealer in a hotel room. He does not know it, but the drug dealer is a police informant. He is wearing a wire. The police are not eavesdropping illegally because the informant freely consented to the recording.3
Penalties for eavesdropping
Eavesdropping under CRS 18-9-304 is a class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado.4 A conviction carries up to:
- 18 months in jail, and
- $5,000 in fines.
Is wiretapping telephone conversations legal in Colorado?
Colorado is a one party consent state. This means people may legally wiretap their own phone conversations without anyone else’s consent. People can also record other people’s phone conversations as long as one participant in the phone call consents.5 But there is one caveat:
If any of the parties to the phone call is not in Colorado, the wiretapper has to abide by both Colorado law and the law of the state the other person is in. The other state may be a two-party consent state, which would make intercepting the conversation illegal without everyone’s consent.6
Penalties for wiretapping
Illegal wiretapping under CRS 18-9-303 is usually a class 6 felony under state law. Convictions for violating wiretapping laws carry a minimum of:
- 1 year in prison, and
- $1,000 in fines.7
Illegally wiretapping a cordless phone, like a cell phone, is a class 1 misdemeanor. A conviction carries a minimum of:
- 6 months in jail, and
- $500 in fines.8
Meanwhile, violating federal laws for wiretapping carries up to 5 years in prison.9
Note that recording conversations can also invite civil lawsuits for invasion of privacy.
- CRS 18-9-304.
- People v. Rivera, 792 P.2d 786 (Colo. 1990).
- People v. Palmer, 652 P.2d 1092 (Colo. App. 1982). Lawsuits or criminal charges stemming from consensual recordings of a conversation can be ended at the summary judgment stage (Abrahamsen v. Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co., 494 P.2d 1287 (Colorado Supreme Court 1972)).
- CRS 18-9-304.
- Other one party consent states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Meanwhile, all party consent states are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington. People in all-party consent states have a higher reasonable expectation of privacy.
- Wiretapping is both a state and federal crime. United States Code § 2511(2)(d) (“It shall not be unlawful under this chapter for a person not acting under color of law to intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication where such person is a party to the communication or where one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception unless such communication is intercepted for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act”); Col. Rev. Stat. § 18-9-303(1)(a) (“Any person not a sender or intended receiver of a telephone or telegraph communication commits wiretapping if he… Knowingly overhears, reads, takes, copies, or records a telephone, telegraph, or electronic communication without the consent of either a sender or a receiver”).
- CRS 18-9-303(2).
- CRS 18-9-303(2).
- 18 U.S.C. § 2511(4)(a).