Lawmakers Are Wrong to Attack One-Party Consent Law

Northwest Georgia Senator and Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis wants to make Georgia a two-party consent state and he’s never been more wrong.

Under current Georgia law, only one party must consent to being recorded in a conversation and that one party can be the recording party. (Ex: If I’m having a conversation with Bob and I decide to record it, I don’t need to ask Bob’s permission. I’m the consenting party.)

But this is nothing more than a poorly structured elected official protection act – or “Cagle’s Law.” Mullis can say it isn’t about our former Lieutenant Governor who was recorded on tape during the 2018 election cycle saying he backed ‘bad public policy’ because of [expletive] politics, but Senator Jeff Mullis, who donated more than $10,000 to Cagle’s failed campaign, is doing this to make sure no one else gets Cagled. The bill is sponsored by other Cagle supporters including Senators Larry Walker, Steve Gooch, John Wilkinson, Butch Miller, and Ellis Black.

Mullis filed Senate Bill 59 this week, which would bring Georgia in line with 12 other states in the U.S. that require both parties give consent to being recorded – California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. (Ex: I consent to conversation with Bob and both Bob and I announced that we consent to being recorded) The other 36, including Georgia, protect individuals in consensual conversations.

Mullis was quoted in the AJC saying that people have “a right to know when people are recording them.”

He’s wrong about that. Rights are found in the Constitution. The Constitution is supposed to restrict the government, not people. The legislation not only restricts people individually but interferes in private interactions between two parties who are already consenting to have a conversation. The government does not need to be involved.

These lawmakers would be limiting a tool long used by the media, a tool that has long allowed the media to hold elected officials accountable. Perhaps that’s why they want to make it illegal. Remember the Planned Parenthood videos back in 2015? Some of that was protected by one-party consent laws. In California, they faced felony charges. Mitt Romney was recorded in 2012 talking about Obama voters and the ACORN voting process recordings rocked the election in 2008. These seem to exclude the times when private citizens have taken things they recorded to the media for distribution because a crime was committed or something unethical was happening in their community.

In rural Georgia, I was able to highlight the poor behavior of a magistrate judge because of the one-party consent rules. Ironically, the judge and his attorney were not aware of Georgia’s one-party consent law and even dangled the idea of criminal charges in front of me because I released the recording of his inappropriate behavior.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

It’s something that Georgia First Amendment Foundation President Richard T. Griffiths said would be “very bad for the public.”

Not only would it have an impact on investigative journalism, it would keep people from being able to pursue legal action against people trying to commit fraud over the phone, Griffiths said.

The current law is direct, clear, and takes less than a paragraph to explain, but Mullis and his friends in the Senate want to change that in the name of a failed political campaign and a candidate who amounted to an even bigger failure. I can’t think of a worse reason to enact a law, but I’ve come to know that our lawmakers thrive in environments where the public has less and politicans can do more.

Criminal charges for recording a conversation between adults. That’s what these Senators want to do with Senate Bill 59.


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