Are Police Scanners Legal?

scanner-laws3

Yes, police scanners are legal to own and operate in the US.

Airwaves in the U.S. are public property and information sent over them does not presume privacy which was established in the 1934 Communications Act. Some radio bands are blocked on scanners such as cell phone and some military bands where privacy is presumed, but all other frequencies are considered public. For an understanding of radio bands in the US and how they work please read Key Police Scanner Concepts & Overview.

While listening to radio bands on police scanners in legal in the US, there are 2 types of restrictions. These restrictions vary greatly from state to state as these are state laws, not federal laws. The restrictions center around:

1 – Use of a police scanner while driving
2 – Use of a police scanner in the furtherance of a crime


 

US States That Restrict Police Scanner Use While Driving

US States where use of a police scanner while driving is restricted.
US States where use of a police scanner while driving is restricted.

The image above shows the US states where there are restrictions around using a scanner while driving.

Below is a link to each state’s statute.

› Florida

› Indiana

› Kentucky

› New York

› Minnesota

While the nuances of these laws vary from state to state they all have the same gist:

You cannot use a police scanner while operating a motor vehicle.

These laws have been enacted to prevent users from listening to police communication to avoid speed traps. Most of these laws were intended for fuzz busters, but they also apply to scanners. Police scanner apps are also covered by most of these statues. However, as scanner apps are new, and there is pending litigation in several states, these laws will change as case law is made.


US States That Restrict Police Scanner Use In The Furtherance Of A Crime

US states where use of a scanner while committing a crime is illegal.
US states where use of a scanner while committing a crime is illegal.

The image above shows the states where there are state level restrictions around using a scanner in furtherance of a crime.

Below is a link to each state’s statute.

› California

› New Jersey

› Michigan

› Oklahoma

› Rhode Island

› South Dakota

› Vermont

› Virginia

› Nebraska

› West Virginia

While the nuances of these laws vary from state to state they all have the same gist:

If you use a police scanner to monitor the police while committing a crime – you can be charged in addition to whatever other crime you are committing.

The penalties vary greatly from state to state. For example:

› Vermont: 30 days in jail and $250 fine.

› Rhode Island: 5 years and $5,000.

 

Some states (Minnesota) that have scanning while driving restrictions exempt licensed ham operators. But this, like most of these laws, is a gray area and you’ll want to take a look at your state’s statue which we link to above.

We should note that we are not attorneys and that you should consult an attorney as this document was created to give a background on the legality of police scanners only.


What do you think?

Have any questions or think we should add something? Disagree with anything we wrote? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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  • stan b walter

    i think police got it made who said that they can do so pepole . why becuse of no freedom is it realy freedom what happen to a persons right to freedom.what dose that sound like.freedom.i thought we had freedom.evidently not.foreign pepole thimks its free in usa. ithink we are robots. how do you like if you had a party. and you had some alcohol beverage.and you got someone drunk.and your responsible.and worse thing is you own a businessand you didnt no wharehe came from.a local bar maybe.then he hit a kid.now your in trouble.now ware his or hir resonsibility for there action instead accusing someone eles. you talk about being accused. how would you be in there shoes.becuse of this new law.pepole realy has to think twice .and realy. ithink.iawsuit time.becuse this person no longer responisble for him self.so this drunk makes mony buy drinking at someones house.you talk about getting away with things.and you wouldent no what hit you.