It has been a long held belief that owning and using a police
scanner is illegal. The truth is that owning and using a scanner
for use in your own home is legal, however, there are some things
that are illegal to do with a scanner.
In addition to Federal
restrictions may apply and vary from state to state. For example,
a few states require a permit or FCC amateur license for mobile
Law regulating the use
of radio scanners are enforced by the FCC (Federal Communications
Commission) and spelled out
in the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act of
The bottom line:
It is illegal to listen in on cellular and cordless phone calls.
It is illegal to intercept encrypted or scrambled communications.
It is illegal for scanner manufacturers to sell or import
radio scanners that are capable of receiving cellular phone frequencies.
(Note: This rule does not apply to sales by individuals and
made before 1985).
It is illegal to modify radio scanners so that
cellular phone frequencies can be received.
It is illegal to use information you hear for personal gain.
A common example is where a taxi driver listens to a
competitor's dispatch channel for fare pick-ups and then races
over and picks-up the fares.
It is illegal to use information you hear to aid in the
commission of a crime.
It is illegal to disclose information you hear to other
A full text copy of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act
of 1986 can be found here.
It may sound complicated, but donít worry, if you are a
law-abiding citizen and are not a convicted felon, there you should not
problem. The following resources listed below contain further information
where you can learn more about
scanning laws that may apply in your state.