Jeff Mullis

Jeff Mullis

A bill that would make it illegal to record a conversation without first telling the other person has many concerned the legislation could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment.

Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, introduced Senate Bill 59 Tuesday. It would require the consent of all parties involved before a conversation could be recorded.

In last year’s Republican primary for governor, Mullis backed then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who lost support when another candidate secretly recorded him bragging about backing “bad public policy” in an effort to hurt an opponent.

Georgia is one of 38 states in which someone recording a conversation does not have to tell the other party, according to Richard T. Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

“There are a bunch of potential red flags with this,” Griffiths said, adding it would turn otherwise law-abiding citizens looking to defend themselves into criminals. “All this does is protect people who don’t need protection. All this does is make it hard for Georgians to fight back against wrong-doing. Any law-abiding citizen has nothing to worry about with the ability to record conversations. It’s only the people who are concerned about being embarrassed or caught in criminal behavior who really stand to benefit from this bill.”

Griffiths said Mullis’ SB 59 would also have negative repercussions for investigative journalists who make undercover recordings in order to shed light on wrongdoing happening out of public view.

“We might very well have a different governor today if this had been the law,” said David Hudson, general counsel for the Georgia Press Association, adding Mullis’ bill would upset 100 years of precedent in Georgia. “That was something important that the public needed to know, that Casey had those views, and that wouldn’t have been available if this bill was the law at the time.”

Hudson also cited two 2012 examples of recordings that shaped public opinion: Barack Obama leaning over former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and telling him the U.S. could be more flexible with Russia, and Sen. Mitt Romney’s remarks to supporters that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income tax and are dependent on the federal government for assistance.