Is It Legal To Record A Conversation? And Other Popular Legal Myths

Inspired by the number of people who ask us whether it’s legal to record a conversation or phone call, we looked into the other legal grey areas people are confused by.

In fact, by analysing Google’s data, we were able to determine the exact things UK residents were keen to know about in relation to legal rights.

According to Google Trends and Google autocomplete data, the most common Google search starting with ‘Is it legal...’ was ‘is it legal to record a conversation. Other popular queries were related to drinking in public, growing hemp and even whether it’s a crime to shoot a pigeon.

We’ve covered the legalities of recording conversations in depth before, but we’ve summarised some of the UK’s most common legal and civil liberties queries below.

Is it legal to record a conversation?

The short answer is yes. There is no specific law prohibiting the recording of a conversation with anyone about anything. The law only applies to what you do with the recording. If the recording is for your personal records or as a memory aid, there is no legal problem.

If you later decide to share the recording or make it public, privacy implications may be covered by the law. For example, if you later post what was thought to be a private conversation to Twitter or Facebook, there may be a problem.

If the situation went to court, one of the main considerations a judge would make was whether the person recorded could have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In most cases, they would have had a reasonable expectation of privacy, although there are exceptions.

Consent is also influential in the law around recording conversations. That’s why when you ring up your bank, they warn you before connecting that your call may be recorded. Consent typically overrides expectations of privacy because you’re less likely to expect a call to be kept private if you consent to it being recorded.

Is it Legal

Is it legal to drive barefoot?

Yes, there’s no law against driving barefoot. However, if by doing so, you are unable to control the pedals properly, you may be guilty of dangerous driving or even reckless driving, depending on what happens. As is the case with a lot of legal grey areas, one thing may be perfectly legal until it leads to something else. See also driving in flip flops and eating while driving.

Is it legal to drink in public in the UK?

Where do you do most of your drinking? If the answer is ‘the pub’ or ‘public house’, then you probably already know the answer to this. Drinking in public is generally legal. Confusion typically arises around the sale of alcohol rather than its consumption.

The owner of your pub needs a license to sell you alcohol, and they must meet certain conditions, for example, not selling you alcohol if you are drunk, underage or outside of license restrictions.

More confusion arises around consuming alcohol in public, outside of licensed premises. On the whole, you are permitted to drink wherever you like. Exceptions include the London Underground and other sections of the public transport network.

Restrictions may also be in place at certain events, for example, football matches and demonstrations.

There are certain areas of the UK where local authorities may not permit public drinking, but you’ll see signs telling you when you enter these areas. Belfast, in Northern Ireland, has the largest exclusion zone for public drinking, and it’s safe to assume that when there, drinking on the streets is NOT legal.

But on the whole, yes, it’s quite legal.

Is it legal to marry your cousin?

Charles Darwin, biologist, evolutionist and the man who popularised the term ‘natural selection’, was married to his first cousin. The Queen and Prince Philip are third cousins. So yes, it is legal to marry your first cousin.

There are some people who believe it shouldn’t be because they claim offspring from first-cousin couples are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses and developmental problems. There is insufficient evidence one way or the other, and it’s a very controversial topic, but as far as the law is concerned, you can marry your first cousin.

Is it Against the law

Is it legal to record a phone call?

This is one that is very similar to recording a private conversation. The answer is yes. It is legal to record a phone call, provided you don’t breach any laws relating to privacy, harassment or extortion with the recording. Recording a phone call, even without telling the person being recorded, is entirely legal. Just be very careful what you do with the recording. You also have certain obligations in relation to the Data Protection Act if you choose to record a phone call because by recording it, you’re storing data, so that’s worth looking into as well.

Is it legal to grow hemp in the UK?

In most cases, no. Hemp is a variety of cannabis; in most circumstances in the UK, it is not legal to grow it. You need a license from the Home Office, and these aren’t always easy to acquire.

Although related to cannabis, hemp can be used for clothing, cooking, painting, and fuel, and it is now becoming increasingly popular as a medicine.

Certain restrictions around growing hemp, even with a license, could very easily see you breaking drug laws. If the plant you are growing contains more than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it is classified as a cannabis plant and becomes illegal.

Is it legal

Steve Roberts, owner and founder of Online Spy Shop, has this to say on the legal grey areas confusing Britons.

"When it comes to surveillance and recording, it's essential to stick within the bounds of the law. The 2006 Wireless Telegraphy Act covers the use of discreet or hidden recording devices. Significantly, it’s an idiosyncratic piece of law that seems to protect the person doing the recording more than the subject. While many assume it's not legal to record someone else secretly, the legislation is quite clear. The majority of the legislation in this area covers what happens to the recording, not the act of making it, which is where the confusion comes in.

"It's become really easy to record conversations using a smartphone, so it's no surprise more people are interested in the law around it. My advice is to seek consent if you want to make a recording. If that's not practical, familiarise yourself with the laws governing the use of the recording and if you intend to record someone to collect evidence, speak to a legal professional first."

Best of the rest - Is it legal to...

shoot pigeons

Not without the appropriate licenses for pest control and firearms and only in circumstances where you can prove the pigeons are pests.

drive with one eye

Yes, although you may need a note from your doctor to prove to the DVLA that the sight in your other eye is sufficient.

tow a car

Yes, it’s legal to tow a car with the consent of the owner, provided you use the correct equipment and stick to the relevant road laws and most importantly, have the correct license for the kind of vehicle you want to tow. According to The Telegraph “Without passing the B+E test, B licence holders are limited to towing a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of car and trailer of 4.25 tonnes if the trailer has a MAM of 750kg or less, or a total of 3.5 tonnes if the trailer's MAM is more than 750kg. It’s not legal to tow a car without the owner’s consent, for example, a car that’s parked illegally or a car causing an obstruction, unless you are licensed to do so and appointed by either the DVLA, police or local authority.

park on pavement

It's not generally illegal, unless in contravention of local authority notices or if the car is causing an obstruction.

cycle on the pavement

Yes, it's illegal

smoke weed

No. It is still illegal to smoke cannabis in the UK.

park on the pavement

It's not generally illegal, unless in contravention of local authority notices or if the car is causing an obstruction.

smoke in your car

No, assuming there are no children in the car and the car is not considered a workplace, such as a taxi.

eat and drive

Legal, provided it doesn't lead to a distraction, which could be deemed driving without due care and attention or even dangerous driving.

charge for carrier bags

Yes, this is completely legal. In fact, retailers of a certain size are legally obliged to charge for them.

cold call

Yes, provided all regulations are observed and the call doesn't constitute nuisance or harassment.

vape inside

Yes, e-cigarettes are not covered by the laws that cover smoking. Although businesses may ban smoking on their premises.

swear in public

Yes, it's not a crime to swear in public. Although persistent swearing or swearing accompanied by other behaviour may constitute a public order offence.

not register to vote

Yes. It is a criminal offence to not respond to an electoral canvas or to refuse to give details to an electoral registration officer and punishable with a fine of up to £1,000.

slap your child

It is legal, provided the slap amounts to 'reasonable punishment' under Section 58 of the Children Act 2004.