DiCindio Law LLC | July 24, 2023 | Pennsylvania Law
Despite the advent and proliferation of social media, online news sources, and other technological advances, many Pennsylvania residents still like to tune into their police scanners to see what their local law enforcement is up to.
The use of police scanners is not welcomed by all, though. Some law enforcement agencies have criticized the availability of police scanners and the devices’ ability to tune into police radio frequencies. Some have claimed that these devices allow criminals to plan their criminal endeavors around police activities.
These criticisms aside, police scanners remain legal to possess and use in Pennsylvania. However, while these scanners are legal to possess, not all of their uses are permitted.
How Police Scanners Are Legally Used Today
The news media, public service officials, and private citizens interested in police activity are all common users of police scanners. A scanner is a radio device that is capable of receiving the VHF and UHF frequencies on which police radios frequently operate. Thus, anyone with a police scanner can listen to police radio activity.
Police scanners are passive, however. This means that while you can listen to radio traffic with a scanner, you cannot communicate with any other party using the frequency. Moreover, those using the frequency do not have any way of knowing if anyone else is listening to the frequency with a scanner.
Generally speaking, it is legal to possess and use a police scanner in your home anywhere in the United States, including Pennsylvania. Additionally, unlike some states, you do not need a special license to use a police scanner in the Keystone State.
Limitations on Police Scanner Use in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania laws limit the use of police scanners in certain specific situations. For instance, you may not use a police scanner to listen in to private telephone conversations without the consent of both participants.
Additionally, you cannot use a police scanner in such a way as to interfere with police activity or to assist a criminal endeavor. For example, suppose that your brother is a suspect in a recent robbery. You cannot monitor local police activity with a scanner to conceal your brother from law enforcement and help him avoid criminal responsibility.
Or perhaps someone is using illegal drugs at home. Upon hearing that police are on the way to respond to a complaint about the residence, the individual decides to hide or destroy the illegal drugs before the police arrive. This, too, could be considered a criminal act.
In both examples, the fact that you could legally possess and use a police scanner to obtain the relevant information does not shield you from criminal liability for your actions.
Use Police Scanners Responsibly
A police scanner is an inexpensive method for staying abreast of the current activities of your local law enforcement and first responders. Whether in your home, at work, or in your car, no law prohibits you from listening to the broadcasts and transmissions of police and emergency services.
As you use a scanner, though, make sure not to use the scanner to listen to others’ private conversations. Moreover, even if you legally hear helpful information on the scanner, this does not mean you can use that information to commit acts that may be on the wrong side of the law.
While police scanners are legal in Pennsylvania, they must be used responsibly.
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