Can You Legally Record Phone Calls In Australia?

It’s a familiar phrase when you’re stuck on the phone to a call centre: “This call may be recorded for quality or training purposes.” But what happens if you decide to turn the tables and record the call yourself?

Picture by lwr

There are plenty of reasons why recording a phone call might be useful, ranging from having an exact record of what was said in contentious battles with a service provider through to making notes on work projects afterwards (a common plight for journalists). The Internet is awash with conflicting advice on whether recording calls is legal, in part because of the confusing situation in the US where state laws often collide.

In Australia, it’s actually a bit less complicated. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner site offers a useful summary of the law that applies to companies recording calls with customers (and, by extensions, customers recording calls with companies):

If a call is to be recorded or monitored, an organisation must tell you at the beginning of the conversation so that you have the chance either to end the call, or to ask to be transferred to another line where monitoring or recording does not take place if this is available.

In other words: if you don’t ask permission, you might be breaking the law, and if permission is denied, you shouldn’t continue. (The one very partial exception is telephone companies, who can sometimes record calls as part of troubleshooting and quality measurement, but only under very tightly defined circumstances.)

Presuming the material isn’t going to be heard in a courtroom at some point, that legal status might not matter much, but simple good manners suggest it’s worth pointing out to your caller that you’ve making a recording. Lifehacker is not a lawyer, so if you’re concerned about a specific situation, seek legal advice (and don’t try surreptitiously recording your partner during a messy custody dispute). However, it appears pretty clear that the easiest way to avoid problems is simply to seek permission.

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