Law to ban all scanner monitoring introduced
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The police scanner, longtime feature of most city desks, may become a thing of the past if Congress passes a bill recently introduced in the House.
The bill, known as the Wireless Privacy Enhancement Act of 1997, would make it illegal to manufacture scanners capable of picking up commercial mobile service radio transmissions, a broad band of the radio spectrum that includes many frequencies used by police, fire departments, ambulances and local governments.
Existing law prohibits divulging information overheard on a scanner. But the current proposal would criminalize merely listening to any radio signal not intended for the person actually listening.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) shortly after a cellular conference call between Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders was intercepted by a Florida couple with a police scanner. John and Alice Martin, of Gainesville, Fla., recorded the conversation and turned the tape over to a ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee.
Since the introduction of the bill, Tauzin’s office has stated that the legislation was not intended to prohibit the manufacture of scanners or their continued use by the media and scanner enthusiasts. Efforts are underway to rewrite the bill so as to protect the privacy of cellular phone users while keeping scanners legal.
Efforts to restrict monitoring of cellular phones and pagers also come in the wake of recent tension between government agencies and the press. During the TWA Flight 800 crisis, the FBI claimed it was forced to abandon use of cellular phones due to excessive press monitoring. And employees of a “tip” service in New York City currently face charges of illegally intercepting pager signals intended for local government officials. (H.R. 2369)