Recording cell phone videos can get you in legal trouble, but here’s a loophole.

October 12, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka



Believe it or not, recording video on your cellphone can land you in legal trouble in certain places. In various locales across the United States, laws have been or are being introduced that could make it a crime to record what happens in public.

Law enforcement agents are able to go after people recording in public using old anti-wiretap laws that make it illegal to record audio without someone’s permission – even if this takes place on the street. Most high-profile cases of this “felony eavesdropping” involve people recording dealings with police officers or others in a position of authority, which has then lead to court cases like this and this. A recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision affirmed the right to film in public places, but you could still face some trouble depending on your location. Check your state and local laws for clarity on the issue.

In order to avoid the anti-wiretapping loophole, users can sometimes disable audio recording from their video. It doesn’t always make sense to leave out the dialogue, but for anyone who lives in a place where two-party consent is required for capturing audio, this could be a workaround. I failed to discover a decent camcorder app with this option, but it is built-in to select Android devices. There is no consistency with this among camera apps, so a Samsung Infuse might have the option but a Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T doesn’t.

TIP: If your phone doesn’t support optional audio, perhaps you can sign-up for Qik or USTREAM, which broadcast your recording live to the Internet and archive it immediately afterward. It still may run afoul of the law, but it will provide a backup of your video should someone try to take a phone and delete the recording.

HTC Sense UI

Go to the Camcorder app and press the “Menu” button, then uncheck “Record with Audio.”

Motorola UI

Start recording a video and you should see an on-screen button in the bottom that says “Mute.” Tap that and audio will no longer be recorded.


Switch to video in the camera app and there should be a gear icon in the corner. Tap it and scroll down to the Audio option, then mute it.

Samsung UI

Click the gear icon near the corner. On the following screen, tap the wrench icon and deselect the Audio recording option.