PROVO — Police at Brigham Young University are investigating whether any laws were broken after professors discovered a voice-activated recording device stuck under a chair in a lecture hall on campus.
Two professors were working on a PowerPoint presentation in the Joseph Smith Building two weeks ago when they discovered a digital recorder stuck to the bottom of a stool with Velcro, police said. After attempting to play back the recordings, they grew concerned and began searching other classrooms in the building.
Upon discovering similar Velcro setups under chairs in other classrooms, the professors called police. The investigation, however, has had its challenges.
“We really can’t imagine why they would be doing it to begin with,” said BYU Police Lt. Arnold Lemmon. “In a classroom setting, why they were doing it is a mystery to us.”
Lemmon described the recorder as a small, digital device that was easily concealed. Investigators were unable to review much of what had been recorded because the audio was inadvertently erased when the recorder was found, and fingerprinting is out of the question due to the number of people who handled the device before it was handed over to police.
We're interested in who the person is that put it there, what they were trying to do with it, what conversations they were trying to capture and why.
–Lt. Arnold Lemmon, BYU police
According to Utah state law, if one party is aware of the presence of a recording device, there’s no violation of the law. BYU police are trying to find out if that was the case here.
“If it was used in a conversation where none of the parties were aware of it, then of course we have a violation of the law and we would pursue it from there,” Lemmon said.
The key to getting that information lies in tracking down the person who placed the device under the stools, but investigators said the chances of doing that are slim. As of Monday, they had no suspects or leads.
“We’re interested in who the person is that put it there, what they were trying to do with it, what conversations they were trying to capture and why,” Lemmon said.
William Hamblin, who teaches history at BYU, posted about the audio recorders last week on the faith-based Patheos blog.
"If anyone at BYU wants to hear what I say in the classroom, they don't need to attach a voice-activated recorder under the classroom teacher's chair with Velcro. Feel free to put the recorder on the table. I'll even start it for you. Or you can sit in on my class. All are welcome. Or, for that matter, you can listen to classroom recordings I have made myself. Really, there is no need to go to the expense of buying a voice-activated recorder, sneak it in the classroom at night, and surreptitiously tape it under the chair. I'm serious. You don't need to do that."
The Joseph Smith Building houses most of the religion courses taught on campus.
Contributing: Devon Dolan