Potential Plot: Old Law vs. New Technology

I live in Illinois, which is known as a “two-party consent” state. This means that in order to legally record a private conversation the person doing the recording must have the consent of everyone who might be recorded, so it really should be called an “all-parties consent” state.

Whatever. The point is that if I want to record a telephone call or a business meeting where I live and go to work I must have the consent of everyone who is going to be recorded regardless of how I plan on using the recording.

Now I learned about this because I researched the law before I purchased a LiveScribe smartpen. This little doo-hickey lets me record all of my handwritten notes as well as the audio. It also syncs the playback of the audio with the notes, so I can tap on what I wrote and the pen will playback what was recorded at the moment that I wrote it. The best feature though is that I can write a shortcut on the paper and send the notes and the audio to Evernote which is why I wanted this contraption in the first place. I use Evernote for everything, and having my handwritten notes automatically imported into my Evernote account is wonderful for me.

But I wanted to let my co-workers know what their rights were, and I told them that I planned on recording the audio from all meetings that I attend unless someone objected. I shared what the law was, and I even contacted our company’s internal counsel to make sure that I had interpreted the law correctly (he confirmed that I had). I also clearly stated that these recordings would not be shared with anyone and were for my private use exclusively.

Some of my co-workers immediately gave me consent to record them in any situation, and that was very cool of them. Others did not say anything, but apparently some have concerns about being recorded during a meeting and this was brought to my attention through their manager.

I must admit, this pisses me off. If you are a professional being recorded at work during a meeting by another professional who just wants to keep accurate notes I do not feel that your privacy is being invaded. Personally I think this sort of reaction is more along the lines of people not wanting to be held accountable to what they say (the old “I never said I would do that!” tactic) or someone knowing that they say inappropriate things during meetings. In either case, I do not care what a person says during a meeting that is not related to the meeting’s topic. I just want accurate notes as I find that it helps me to do a better job.

Oh well. I can still use the pen without the audio recordings. I honestly feel like my co-workers have let me down though. I can only take their reactions to mean that they do not trust me.

But this also got me thinking about the real problem for me is not their wish not to be recorded, but the law that prevents me from being able to record the meetings that I attend. The law was written as a way to prevent illegal wire tapping of phone lines, and to prevent actual invasions of privacy such as someone putting a recording device in your home without your knowledge. The law was probably written long before the technology existed for someone to record a meeting with a device the size of a pen. In other words, the law was written back when someone would not attempt to record a meeting because the cost or the equipment needed to do so was not cost-effective or easy to use.

That is no longer the case. Any smartphone or laptop can be used to record a business meeting with unbeknownst to the meeting attendees. So while I might be playing by the rules I have to wonder if anyone has ever recorded a meeting I was in without my consent just because he or she did not know about the law. I would not consider that an invasion of my privacy, but it would be a violation of the law. In Illinois that person could face criminal charges and I might be able to file a civil suit against him or her just because he or she recorded a meeting probably for the same reason that I would – a desire to keep accurate notes.



Perfect plot for an RPG session!

Imagine if the heroes of your game came across some form of technology that they were using in what they thought was a harmless manner, and suddenly the local authorities were after them for breaking the law. The technology does not even have to be that exotic, because the law just needs to be really antiquated.

Constable: “You are guilty of using a horse drawn cart!”

PC: “What?! Are you serious?”

Constable: “Yes. Six hundred years ago the kingdom was attacked by invaders who used chariots. Once the invaders were driven back, the high council passed a law forbidding any type of wheeled device that is pulled by a horse.”

PC: “I am carrying two swords, a wand of lightning, a spiked shield, poisoned darts, a crossbow with exploding magical bolts, and have a mechanical fire breathing dragon mount in my bag of holding and you are arresting me because I have a cart attached to a horse’s ass full of orphans that I rescued from cannibals?”


Yep. To me that is GMing gold, folks.

What makes this silver lining on my dark cloud even better is that I am preparing my Star Trek game right now. Technology is a common plot device in Star Trek, but not because of the technology itself. Star Trek episodes often focus on how a technology will impact the social situations that the characters face. Imagine if the PCs beam down to a planet that at one time was under attack by merciless space raiders who teleported into secure and private areas to slaughter people. Now the PCs arrive and because their transporters work differently the planet’s defenses did not prevent them from reaching the planet’s surface.

What happens when the local militia suddenly sees a party of people in uniforms teleporting right in the open? How will the party explain that they use their transporters for peaceful purposes? What if the use of the transporters is the only way to prevent the loss of several native’s lives, but the powers that be forbid the use of that technology?

To me that is the kind of thing that great games are made of. It has a very strong social element, and I can see how it would challenge a group of players in several different ways.

I might not get to record my work meetings, but at least I got a damn good game idea out of this whole mess!