Many Are Secretly Recording Conversations
Feb. 17 - Linda has tapes of Monica. A New York literary agent has tapes of Linda. Gennifer has tapes of Bill.
And there's been scuttlebutt - unproven so far - that Monica Lewinsky also has a recording of President Clinton, perhaps made when he phoned her at home and she punched the REC button on her answering machine.
"People tape other people all the time,'' says one Denver investigator, who also requested anonymity. Most of those secret recordings, says the investigator, have to do with civil, not criminal, matters like child-custody cases, business dealings and divorces.
And it's perfectly legal.
"I think everybody at one time or another has probably done that ... recorded someone else by using an answering machine. I bet you yourself have done it,'' said a Denver private investigator who asked not to be named as she left those words on voice mail.
Or is this propensity to record every conversation - be it over the phone, or in a bar where you're sharing cocktails with a so-called friend who happens to be wired for sound - just a Washington thing?
But Colorado, like most states, has a no-fault divorce law and marriages can be dissolved without cause and don't require taped or video proof of a partner's behavior, added Jane Cracraft, another local investigator.
If you do decide to tape a friend, boss or ex-spouse, it's perfectly legal. Colorado is a "one-party'' state, meaning only one party to a conversation need know that it's being recorded - and that can be the person doing the taping.
Most states have a similar law. Only nine - including Maryland, where former White House aide Linda Tripp lives and allegedly taped Monica Lewinsky's conversations - are "all-party'' states, which means that everyone involved in the conversation must be aware it's being recorded, or the person doing the taping is subject to prosecution.
Cracraft said she doesn't use tape recorders because she works mostly for lawyers who have a clause in their conduct code that says tape recording without a client's or witness' permission is unethical.
"But there are people who record all conversations with their ex-spouses and businesses who record all transactions,'' she said. "And if you were, for example, negotiating to buy a used car and got a promise of a price, it might not be a bad idea to tape that.''
But what about average folk - friends, even - carrying around tape recorders just in case they need to get some words down for posterity?
"I don't think there are a lot of friends covertly taping one another,'' said Ralph Thomas, a private investigator in Austin, Texas, who founded the National Association of Investigative Specialists and publishes books and catalogs for detectives.
Thomas said most investigators are very clear about what's legal to record in their own states, but the statutes are vague when it comes to calling from a state with a one-party law into another with a two-party law.
And it's unclear what might happen with the Tripp tapes, since she recorded them in an all-party state, and clearly all parties - that is, Lewinsky - didn't consent to them. Even if Tripp was granted immunity from prosecution and told by independent counsel Kenneth Starr that she could lawfully record Lewinsky, the admissibility of the tapes still would be in question, Thomas speculated.
But whatever the law, there's no shortage of equipment out there for would-be tapers. One of the Denver investigators said that devices you simply hook to your phone to record a conversation and as inexpensive as "a few dollars'' are available at electronics stores.
The reports that Tripp recorded some 20 hours of conversation with her friend Lewinsky would suggest that she was doing lots of cassettechanging - unless she had access to some of the products in Thomas' catalog for private investigators.
"I don't know what she used, but I hope it wasn't one of ours,'' Thomas joked.
Among other recording devices, he offers the Sony Modified LongPlay Recorder - $198 - which records up to 12 hours of phone conversation, "even when one of the parties is talking in a very soft voice.''
Even handier for Tripp - or perhaps Kenneth Starr - would have been the MicroVoice Stress Truth Indicator ( "only $295'') that "measures and interprets voice stress in human speech and gives you a bar graph reading on the contents and intensity of microtremors in human speech.''
Lewinsky, however, might wish she had known about the SuperTec Covert Eavesdropping Detector that would have alerted her to the fact that she was being recorded.
"Place unit in your pocket and it will silently vibrate when it detects hidden tape recorders and bodyworn transmitters,'' touts the catalog listing for this item; the price, $795.
Thomas said his audience is primarily investigators and insurance claims adjustors. Businesses also do a lot of tape-recording, he said, to monitor customer service and have a record of transactions.
Customers usually are notified when that kind of taping is going on; when you call a business you often hear a message like "Phone calls are randomly monitored to assure customer service.'' But the Wall Street Journal said in a story last month that secret recordings are becoming more common in employment disputes, both because "loyalty in the work force seems to be fraying,'' and tape recorders are getting smaller and cheaper.
It cited one chain, called Counter Spy Shops, which offers a creditcard-size recorder ($800) that will detect sound from 30 feet away - perfect for taking into a personnel meeting or situation where an employee thinks something valuable might be uttered.
But maybe the real problem here isn't tiny tape recorders or spy equipment shops that sell to the masses. Maybe it's that people talk too darn much about their private lives.
Former Washington Star gossip columnist Diana McLellan wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal in which she blamed talk shows for cultivating a culture of tell-all, intimacy-sharing people who don't know when to shut up.
She quoted a Virginia psychologist who, coincidentally, might have been foretelling the whole Tripp/Lewinsky/Clinton affair, although McLellan's article was published two years ago: "Stories you might tell about your sex life, for example, may first become grist for the office gossip mill, then public knowledge, and finally, part of the information that's used to evaluate you in your career,'' said the psychologist, Alan Entin.
Added Thomas, the PI catalog editor: "It seems to me that people should be more careful ... and that the president of the United States should realize at all times that he might be recorded.''
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