The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Opinion

January 8, 2013

Legal to record phone calls in Texas

— Is it legal to record conversations with my neighbors? — Name Withheld, Greenville

Warning: The answer below applies only to people in Texas speaking to other people in Texas. Other states and the US Code have drastically different rules.

Answer: Usually yes, but it depends on what you plan to do with the recordings. Under Texas law, you can record any call to which you are party, but there are some catches.

The Texas wire-tapping/recording law is found in Texas Penal Code Section 16.02.  That section states that you may “intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication if [you are] a party to the communication” unless you do it “for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act … or for the purpose of committing any other injurious act.”

Basically, if you record our own conversation without notice to your neighbors, it is legal as long as you do not blackmail them, or plan to blackmail him. You may also not hire an attorney and use the threat of criminal prosecution to gain an advantage in a civil action. 

If you violate these simple rules, the penalties may be severe. Illegally recording a call without permission is a felony punishable by 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If you record with “intent” to blackmail, you may be sued for $10,000 for each call you record, plus additional damages and attorney’s fees.

You should also avoid recording the calls if you are outside the state for any reason. If you vacation in Florida or Montana, for instance, you would be committing a crime by recording your conversations in exactly the same manner as you legally record them in Texas.

My advice is to hire an attorney and take his or her advice on recording the calls.

Is it legal to send a vial of human blood in the US mail? — C.S., Quinlan

Yes. Tightly sealed human fluids and tissues may be sent in a USPS “Medical Professional Package.” This sort of package was intended for use by small medical offices, but there is apparently no law limiting the general public’s ability to use them.

According to postal statutes and regulations available online, “regulated medical waste” like blood may be mailed under some stringent conditions including: (1) you must print the phrase “Medical Professional Packaging” at least two inches high on the address side of the outer shipping container; (2) the package must be rigid, securely closed, puncture- and leak-resistant; (3) the package must be lined with a plastic bag at least 4 millimeters in thickness and must include absorbent liner material; and (4) the total package must weigh less than 35 pounds.

There are several other requirements that must be met in addition to those listed above. You should speak to the knowledgeable people at your local post office for a full list of requirements.

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