Assembly Committee Approves Secret Recordings Of Cell Phone Calls
Contact: Richard Holober / Brian Taylor
SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Committee on Public Safety voted 5-2 today to allow businesses to secretly record cell phone calls with customers under Assembly Bill 925 (Evan Low, D-Campbell), undermining a longstanding legal prohibition on such recordings in California. The committee’s two Republicans voted No on AB 925, taking a stand against weakening a key consumer protection. Low and his fellow Democrats approved the bill – a vote for secret recordings.
As a result of strenuous opposition from a broad-based coalition of consumer, privacy, senior, student, labor and immigrant advocacy groups, Assembly Member Low accepted amendments that require notification to customers 20 seconds into a cell phone conversation that the call may be recorded.
The amendments were not yet in print, leaving little time to assess their significance, but Zach P. Dostart, a San Diego County attorney who represents consumers against debt collectors, payday lenders and other corporations, warned that the changes merely open business calls to manipulation through serial phone calls that would defeat the purpose of the notification. He said AB 925 remains the only known attempt to weaken consumer privacy protections covering business phone calls since 1967, when the California Invasion of Privacy Act made it a crime to secretly record confidential communications.
Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California, told the committee that AB 925’s provision for secret recordings would move the state in the wrong direction at a time of high consumer concerns about invasion of privacy by businesses, and worry about the privacy of telephone calls. Holober pointed out that in upholding California’s ban on secret recording of phone calls under the Penal Code, a unanimous state Supreme Court noted in 2006 that “companies may utilize such undisclosed recording to further their economic interests – perhaps in selectively disclosing recordings when disclosure serves the company’s interest, but not volunteering the recordings’ existence (or quickly destroying them) when they would be detrimental to the company.” Kearney v. Salomon Smith Barney (2006) 39 Cal. 4th 95.
It is unclear whether the bill goes to the Assembly Floor. The committee chair suggested that amendments may send the measure to the Assembly Appropriations Committee first. The coalition opposing AB 925 will continue working to defeat the measure.
Since 1960, the nonprofit Consumer Federation of California has been a powerful voice for consumer rights.