Are Police Scanners Legal?

Are Police Scanners Legal?

 

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 in these states.

 

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? ask us or 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.

    • Gabrielle Walters

      You need to go back to school and learn how to type in coherent sentences….

      • Wrangling comments on here is a job in itself:) Cheers!

    • Gabrielle Walters

      Also from what little I can make out of your insane ramblings, your comment has literally nothing to do with this page about the legality of police scanners…

  • john

    what if i transmit on the police radio?

    • xcott

      Transmitting on most of the radio spectrum requires a license to do so. Unauthorized transmission on a police radio frequency is illegal, but then so is unauthorized transmission of AM/FM radio or TV channels, unauthorized transmission in cell phone frequencies, etc.

      • Correct – thanks! Yeah, you can get a big fine. In theory anyway.

    • fartsandwich

      “You’re gonna have a bad time”

      Did you think you found some clever loophole? Interfering with emergency response in Any way is a serious crime.

      • Yeah. Radios are not made that use these frequencies so you would really have to go out of your way to use and… well… why? Sooo many other ways to communicate.

    • mikecaviness

      It is a FED violation and they don’t take good to it at all. you will be arrested and they can find you fast. If you want to talk become a ham operator. For your and others well being. THANK YOU……

  • Lynn Seymour Rappa

    I live in a small town and almost everyone has a scanner. When an ambulance call comes in the persons name, address, age, and condition is broadcast for all to hear. How is this legal with the HIPAA policy?

    • Depends on the State.

      • NomadJoe

        No it doesn’t, not as it pertains to HIPAA. HIPAA is federal law, but does not apply to urgent EMS communications. True, some states my have stricter laws. General good practice is to avoid broadcasting patient info unless necessary but HIPAA expressly permits it as to not disrupt or delay urgent care.

        • We sell police scanner radios and don’t know, or care, about HIPAA laws. Call a lawyer I guess.

    • jmetzler15

      I would say that this would fall under a necessity to protect human life to prepare first responders and the medical personnel receiving the patient. I have knowledge of these kind of transmissions and this information helps save lives; as time is precious in life threatening situations. It is also probably gathered by someone that has little to no knowledge of HIPPA. If you do think that it is a violation of HIPPA you should talk to your emergency responders.

  • CameronIL

    From what I understand, In the United States, Licensed Amateur Radio Operators with a valid FCC License may possess Amateur Radio Transceivers capable of reception beyond the Amateur Radio Bands per an FCC Memorandum & Order known as FCC Docket PR91-36 (also known as FCC 93-410).

    Note: FCC (1993-09-03). PR Docket 91-36: In the Matter of Federal Preemption of State and Local Laws Concerning Amateur Operator Use of Transceivers Capable of Reception Beyond Amateur Service Frequency Allocations—Memorandum Opinion and Order. Federal Communications Commission, 3 September 1993. Retrieved from http://www.arrl.org/files/file/pr91-36.pdf

    • Yeah, good call on this. Sounds about right if a national communication law overrides State laws. This is all quite confusing but we’ll look into this and update shortly. Thanks!

  • N.S.

    Can a convicted felon legally have a scanner in his car in Los Angelesl?

    • I believe so. Every State is different though but not sure why a record would change your ability to have a scanner. Cheers.

      • N.S.

        Thanks for the answer. I know with HAM radio license there was/is some wording that a felony shows poor moral character. Wasn’t sure if there was some written rule for scanners.

        • That’s news to me but I guess you’ll have to look that one up. We sell scanners here and don’t know the ins and outs of laws in all States. Best.

  • mikecaviness

    AS posted I have been a tech and engineer on all local police state police Fed agency : most all: I can teach you just what to do and how they they hide the info they don’ want you to hear. The main thing is that what you hear is for you only. do not log it. do not tape it. do not use it in a crime it all can be used of your use only. I have been working on them since 1970 contact me at mikecaviness69@gmail.com. or call me at 623-800-2037 Thank you mike

  • Errol Savage

    It is legal to listen “monitor” in most states. Transmitting requires a license in all states. Bottom line..

  • Steve Fleming

    A bit of info that might be helpful in this discussion is that any and all frequencies can be used to transmit about a REAL emergency. If you are going to transmit on, say, a police frequency, it better involve serious threat of loss of life or limb, or major physical destruction. (There may be some exceptions…but it is unlikely that a person with have access to anything *that* top secret. The basic concept is true.)