Privacy bill would criminalize cellular phone eavesdropping
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. House of Representatives in early March approved a bill making it illegal for individuals with scanners to monitor cellular telephone calls or divulge their contents.
The Wireless Privacy Enhancement Act of 1998, sponsored by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), was approved 414-1 in the House.
Existing law prohibits divulging information from cellular phone calls overheard on a scanner. But the new measure would criminalize any effort to “intentionally intercept any radio communication or divulge or publish” the contents of that communication. The law would also apply to individuals who intercept pager signals.
Although the legislation makes exemptions that allow the interception of radio transmissions on spectrum that is intended for general public use, it authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to promulgate rules to enhance the privacy of frequencies that are used by commercial mobile services and shared by public safety users, including police and fire departments.
Tauzin’s proposal also requires that warning labels be placed on radio scanning receivers that describe federal regulations prohibiting illegal monitoring of cellular phones and other electronic devices.
Tauzin’s interest in criminalizing electronic monitoring of cellular phone conversations arose after a Florida couple with a police scanner intercepted and taped a conference call between House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R- Texas) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) two years ago. John and Alice Martin of Gainesville, Fla., subsequently gave the tape to a member of the House ethics committee.
The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee in early March. (H.R. 2369)