Thursday, 16 June 2016

No, people really don't need to warn you, to record your phone or personal conversations with them...

This might be a eureka moment for some, but covertly recording your own telephone conversations, or your in person ones for that matter, is not unlawful in South Africa.

The flip side is also true: if you don't trust someone not to record your conversations with them, don't say anything orally that you wouldn't want splashed across the front page of a newspaper, in writing.

Like the private Facebook message a certain now infamous High Court judge wrote several years ago, which someone unearthed when they saw an opportunity to promote their social media company, your personal conversations can come back to bite you ages after you forgot you even had them. Audio recordings of personal, private, oral conversations, have also, in the past, been used at court.

Those recorded warnings that you get when calling certain companies are done out of politeness, or otherwise due to it being the company, not the individual making the recordings.

In fact, telephone voice recordings are often enough 'discovered' (declared as evidence to be used) in litigation and are used in court, against unsuspecting members of companies or the general public. Some companies specialise in such a practise and make phone calls prior to litigation, in order to use the contents of the calls against the unsuspecting targets of their work. If what you say later on the witness stand contradicts what you said on the telephone, they might claim that you are unreliable, or changed your story.

While RICA bans third party monitoring outside specific ambits, it does allow a person who is not an officer of the law to record and allow others to listen in on their own conversations (those in which they are one of the parties). The Act also allows for recordings to be made of speech made generally to multiple persons, when the recording individual is within natural hearing range, such as where a person is party to a meeting in the board room.

What I am referring to is sections 4 (1) and 5 (1) of the Act, namely:

'(1) Any person, other than a law enforcement officer, may intercept any communication if he or she is a party to the communication, unless such communication is intercepted by such person for purposes of committing an offence.'

'(1) Any person, other than a law enforcement officer, may intercept any communication if one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent in writing to such interception, unless such communication is intercepted by such person for purposes of committing an offence.'

Other provisions of the act deal with when law enforcement officers may make recordings, but that is not the ambit of this article.

So, firstly, what does intercept mean in terms of the act?

In terms of section 1:

'“intercept” means the aural or other acquisition of the contents of any communication through the use of any means, including an interception device, so as to make some or all of the contents of a communication available to a person other than the sender or recipient or intended recipient of that communication, and includes the –
(a) monitoring of any such communication by means of a monitoring device;
(b) viewing, examination or inspection of the contents of any indirect communication; and
(c) diversion of any indirect communication from its intended destination to any other destination,
and “interception” has a corresponding meaning;'

'“monitor” includes to listen to or record communications by means of a monitoring device, and “monitoring” has a corresponding meaning;'

'“monitoring device” means any electronic, mechanical or other instrument, device, equipment or apparatus which is used or can be used, whether by itself or in combination with any other instrument, device, equipment or apparatus, to listen to or record any communication;'

'“indirect communication” means the transfer of information, including a message or any part of a message, whether –
(a) in the form of –
(i) speech, music or other sounds;
(ii) data;
(iii) text;
(iv) visual images, whether animated or not;
(v) signals; or
(vi) radio frequency spectrum; or
(b) in any other form or in any combination of forms,
that is transmitted in whole or in part by means of a postal service or a telecommunication system;'

'“direct communication” means an –
(a) oral communication, other than an indirect communication, between two or more persons which occurs in the immediate presence of all the persons participating in that communication; or
(b) utterance by a person who is participating in an indirect communication, if the utterance is audible to another person who, at the time that the indirect communication occurs, is in the immediate presence of the person participating in the indirect communication;'


That leaves need for the definition of a party to the communication, also in terms of section 1, that would be:

'“party to the communication”, for purposes of –
(a) section 4, means, in the case of –
(i) a direct communication, any person –
(aa) participating in such direct communication or to whom such direct communication is directed; or
(bb) in whose immediate presence such direct communication occurs and is audible to the person concerned, regardless of whether or not the direct communication is specifically directed to him or her; or
(ii) an indirect communication –
(aa) the sender or the recipient or intended recipient of such indirect communication;
(bb) if it is intended by the sender of an indirect communication that such indirect communication be received by more than one person, any of those recipients; or
(cc) any other person who, at the time of the occurrence of the indirect communication, is in the immediate presence of the sender or the recipient or intended recipient of that indirect communication; and
(b) section 5, means, in the case of –
(i) a direct communication, any person participating in such direct communication or to whom such direct communication is directed; or
(ii) an indirect communication –
(aa) the sender or the recipient or intended recipient of such indirect communication; or
(bb) if it is intended by the sender of an indirect communication that such indirect communication be received by more than one person, any of those recipients;'


c.f. REGULATION OF INTERCEPTION OF COMMUNICATIONS AND PROVISION OF COMMUNICATION-RELATED INFORMATION ACT 70 OF 2002

http://www.saflii.org/za/legis/consol_act/roiocapocia2002925/

This article does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice, consult your attorney, with all the facts of your matter, in person, and within the context in which such advice is to be deemed reliable and applicable to your circumstances. This article, while based on research of the law, is published purely for topic interest purposes, and cannot replace the advice of a properly briefed legal practitioner.

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Marc Evan Aupiais

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