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Bill would require consent to record a conversation in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A state legislator introduced a bill Tuesday that would undo a longstanding Utah law allowing a person to record a personal conversation or telephone call without telling the other party.

Rep. Lowry Snow's proposal, HB330, would make it a crime to record a conversation with someone without their consent.

The Santa Clara Republican said the Salt Lake Chamber contacted him about running the bill before the legislative session as a way to protect proprietary business interests.

Snow said he also received a call from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with interest in the bill and a possible desire to support it. The church issued a statement Tuesday backing the measure.

"Church representatives have spoken with legislators to express support for (HB330), which is intended to protect the confidentiality of sensitive private conversations, including those between ecclesiastical leaders and their members," according to LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins.

"In other states, business, legal, religious and law enforcement organizations have supported similar laws to safeguard confidential conversations for the same reasons."

Snow said although he didn’t ask the church, he assumed or speculated that its interest is to protect confidential conversations, or privileged conversations under the law, between an ecclesiastical leader and a member of a congregation.

The bill has implications beyond religion.

Journalists and others routinely record politicians in interviews or in public settings. The bill makes an exception for recording public officials and public employees in the performance of their official duties.

Snow said he knows that when he's acting as a legislator there is always the possibility he is being recorded.

"I think that it's important that the bill not chill or interfere with the right of the public to have access to that information when that political person or officeholder is acting in that capacity," he said.

Snow said he didn't think about how political candidates might fall into that same category, but he sees how they could. He said they're not in the same situation as someone sitting at home or in an office who might have a higher expectation of privacy.

Other exemptions include instances where the person making the recording believes the conversation involves harassment or abuse, threats of extortion, blackmail, bodily harm or injury, or likely to be fraudulent or obscene.

BYU journalism professor Joel Campbell said he understands the issue the LDS Church has raised, but he described the bill as an overly broad approach to resolving it.

"Will it really do what the church wants it to do?" said Campbell, adding he's not speaking on behalf of the university, which is owned by the LDS Church. "There's probably a way to specifically do what the church wants to do, but I don't think this is the way to do it."

The measure could be more narrowly focused, while preserving protections to democracy, he said, citing cases of whistleblowers or others who might provide secret recordings to the media. He wonders if reporters would be barred from publishing that information under the proposed law.

Salt Lake media attorney Jeff Hunt said the legislation should include an exception for whistleblowers and news-gathering.

"The bill does raise serious concerns regarding news gathering by the media, in particular with respect to TV news outlets," he said.

Sometimes hidden cameras are the only way to obtain information about a fraudulent operation, he said. The bill, Hunt said, would stop that kind of reporting.

Snow, a lawyer, said he's getting some pushback from his own profession. Attorneys have told him they don't necessarily record their clients but do record conversations with opposing counsel, he said.

Utah law allows a person to record a conversation without telling the other party or parties. Only 12 states require consent of all parties involved.