Comprehensive Overview (state-by-state) of the Legal Impact of wiretapping:
Alabama law criminalizes the use of any device to overhear or record private communications of other persons without the consent of at least one of party engaged in the communication (Alabama Code 13A-11-30). Alabama also sets criminal penalties for installing or possessing such eavesdropping devices, engaging in criminal surveillance or divulging illegally obtained informations (Alabama Code 13A-11-33)
Impact of law
The eavesdropping law in Alabama only refers to actions taken in private places, defined as “places where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance”, and excludes actions taken in places to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access. This means that while recording or filming are considered unlawful criminal actions when done in a private place without consent, the law does not criminalize these actions when done in public places such as restaurants, hotel lobbies, streets, etc. One can legally record conversations in which he is engaged without informing the other parties.
References to Physical TSCM
Under Alabama Law, a person “commits the crime of criminal eavesdropping if he intentionally uses any device to eavesdrop, whether or not he is present at the time” (Alabama Code 13A-11-31). This description seem to cover all eavesdropping devices like hidden cameras, microphones, wiretaps or other covert surveillance equipment. Further, the criminal surveillance law only references the unlawful action of “intentionally engaging in surveillance while trespassing in a private place”, keeping an open clause on the possible means of surveillance. We can thus assert it is the lawmaker’s intention to cover any such means.
References to Cyber TSCM
It is arguable that “any device” as used in Alabama laws regarding eavesdropping could also reference devices that, while not primarily constructed as eavesdropping equipment, can be and are controlled through surreptitious software surveillance programs (cyber bugs) for the purpose of eavesdropping, such as mobile phones or computers.
Under Alabama law, installing an eavesdropping device on private property is a felony offense and carries a prison sentence between one and 10 years. Unlawful eavesdropping is a class A misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail, while criminal surveillance and disclosing of information illegally are class B misdemeanors carrying a maximum jail sentence of six months.
Alabama Code – Section 13A-11-30: DEFINITIONS
The following definitions apply to this article:
(1) EAVESDROP. To overhear, record, amplify or transmit any part of the private communication of others without the consent of at least one of the persons engaged in the communication, except as otherwise provided by law.
(2) PRIVATE PLACE. A place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance, but such term does not include a place to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access.
(3) SURVEILLANCE. Secret observation of the activities of another person for the purpose of spying upon and invading the privacy of the person observed.
Alabama Code – Section 13A-11-31: CRIMINAL EAVESDROPPING –
(a) A person commits the crime of criminal eavesdropping if he intentionally uses any device to eavesdrop, whether or not he is present at the time.
(b) Criminal eavesdropping is a Class A misdemeanor.
Alabama Code – Section 13A-11-32: CRIMINAL SURVEILLANCE –
(a) A person commits the crime of criminal surveillance if he intentionally engages in surveillance while trespassing in a private place.
(b) Criminal surveillance is a Class B misdemeanor.
Alabama Code – Section 13A-11-33: INSTALLING EAVESDROPPING DEVICE –
(a) A person commits the crime of installing an eavesdropping device if he intentionally installs or places a device in a private place with knowledge it is to be used for eavesdropping and without permission of the owner and any lessee or tenant or guest for hire of the private place.
(b) Installing an eavesdropping device in a private place is prima facie evidence of knowledge that the device is to be used for eavesdropping.
(c) Installing an eavesdropping device is a Class C felony.
Alabama Code – Section 13A-11-34: CRIMINAL POSSESSION OF EAVESDROPPING DEVICE
(a) A person commits the crime of criminal possession of an eavesdropping device if he possesses, manufactures, sends or transports any device designed or commonly used for eavesdropping, and:
(1) Intends to use that device to eavesdrop; or
(2) Knows that another person intends to use that device to eavesdrop.
(b) Criminal possession of an eavesdropping device is a Class A misdemeanor.
Alabama Code – Section 13A-11-35: DIVULGING ILLEGALLY-OBTAINED INFORMATION –
(a) A person commits the crime of divulging illegally-obtained information if he knowingly or recklessly uses or divulges information obtained through criminal eavesdropping or criminal surveillance.
(b) Divulging illegally-obtained information is a Class B misdemeanor.