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When is it legal to use AI to record online calls?

Text-to-speech transcription software is booming, but its use can be legally fraught. Verbit looked at data on the legality of recording calls.

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A woman on a phone call looking out a window.

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Just about everyone struggles with programs like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa. Speech recognition technology has been in development since the 1950s, but computers consistently struggle to understand human speech. This has made them unreliable personal assistants—and even worse stenographers. Recent developments, however, indicate that this is changing fast.

Two trends in recent years have made artificial intelligence recording prevalent throughout the world. The first is the rise of video calls. When the pandemic hit, both businesses and schools took to using video conferencing software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams as their primary modes of communication.

The other is the recent wave of AI software, which has, after decades of development, made it possible for computers to understand and transcribe human speech with far fewer errors. The technology is reliable enough now that many companies record their calls by default. On Sept. 5, 2023, Zoom launched its AI Companion tool, which listens to conversations and automatically generates summaries.

While this technology has been immensely useful to many, it also raises some tricky legal questions. When is it legal to record a call? To make sense of all this, Verbit looked at data on state laws governing recording calls.

Laws vary greatly depending on jurisdiction

A U.S. state map showing the laws governing recording calls. In most states, only one side of a phone call needs to give consent to record a call. But some states, including California and Florida, require all parties on the call to give consent.

Verbit

For calls between people in the United States, laws can drastically vary from state to state. Only one party is required to consent to a call being recorded in 35 states plus Washington D.C., according to data compiled by Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C. In other words, if you are on a phone call with someone else in these states, you are not legally required to tell them that you are recording the conversation.

Nine states, including California and Florida, require the consent of all parties on a call for it to be recorded. The law is either mixed or more complicated in six other states, including Illinois and Colorado.

Laws involving people outside the United States can be different. The European Union's General Data Protection Regulations, more commonly known as GDPR, impose strict restrictions on what kinds of data can be collected about individuals. Practically speaking, this means that recording calls involving people in the European Union effectively requires the consent of all parties. In 2021, Danish regulatory authorities fined one of its fellow government agencies for failing to inform people it was recording phone conversations.

Privacy concerns matter, too

A person holding up and reading from a smartphone.

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In addition to the legal concerns of recording calls, people should also worry about protecting their data from third parties, especially if they are using cloud-based software.

In 2023, Zoom faced backlash when platform users took changes to the company's terms of service to mean that they would be using customers' calls to train their AI models. Zoom has since updated its terms of service to clarify that it would not use customers' communications. However, not all companies are as visible as Zoom, making it important for people to carefully read the terms of service of the software they are using.

Laws governing the use of AI to record or process calls are likely to change, especially as the technology spreads and develops further. What's more, many people have the expectation of at least some privacy, especially when it comes to sensitive calls. This means that the easiest way to avoid any of these concerns would be to simply ask everyone on the call before recording.

Story editing by Ashleigh Graf. Copy editing by Tim Bruns.

This story originally appeared on Verbit and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.