Wiretapping Laws

Isn’t privacy protected by wiretapping laws?

In many cases the answer is yes. To an extent, State and federal laws do protect the rights of people using telecommunications devices. You have probably noticed before that when calling a customer service number you will be informed that the call is being recorded. By bringing this to your attention at the beginning of the call you are assumed to grant permission for this if you choose to continue the conversation. That said, it should be noted that in many states only one party involved in the conversation needs to be aware of the recording in order for it to be legal.

A guide to wiretapping laws can be found at Privacyrights.org

In other situations there are exceptions to the rule. With regard to criminal investigations the suspect would obviously no longer be entitled to his privacy rights. A warrant obtained through a court, even a secret one, or an order by the attorney general allows government agencies to secure permission for wiretapping. The author assumes that you do not fall into the above categories.

Wiretapping laws stop fewer “spies” due to technological advances

Regardless of the legalities involved with wiretapping laws, the fact is that it has become very easy to do and many people simply ignore the law. Spouses, parents and employers can easily purchase and install cell phone spyware on a device without the user’s knowledge. Considering the ease of availability it is very probable that many of the people reading this page will at some point in their lives find themselves unknowingly under the watchful eye of an interested party. This will happen without their awareness unless they take steps protect themselves. If you suspect that someone is eavesdropping on your conversations you should read this section.


The fact is that official wiretaps conducted by government agencies are relatively rare in the United States and limited to dangerous people such as suspected drug dealers, terrorists and other threats to homeland security. Wiretapping laws were created in order to protect the general public from arbitrary listening in by government and law enforcement officials. Besides criminals those employed in high level political positions or involved in legal proceedings with much at risk are more likely to be caught up in less official wiretapping activities.
Even though most citizens are unlikely to be wiretapped by the government there are plenty of other people out there who might in fact be interested in hearing what you have to say. The problem is not only the fact that these unscrupulous folks have a total disregard for wiretapping laws but also that wiretapping is far easier now than it ever has been. The kid next door can probably crack your WEP Wi-Fi encryption if he puts his mind to it. The neighbor across the street can purchase a radio scanner that can monitor your cordless phone transmissions. Anyone with a credit card can download applications that, when installed on your cell phone, will record everything that you say and do!
By definition wiretapping is the act of intercepting the information transmitted by a communications device by radio signal. This is a bit different than electronic eavesdropping which is done by planting a device in the proximity of the person who is being monitored. For example by placing a separate microphone in the same room where a conversation is taking place one might record a telephone call without actually receiving the signal which is being sent by the phone. It is important to consider the differences when we look at how wiretapping laws affect us. It is interesting to note that at the time of this writing, federal wiretapping laws do not address communication devices which are not transmitting sound. This includes but is not limited to webcams, security cameras and the camera built into your cell phone. While each state may have its own wiretapping laws regarding video, this does leave a huge gray area when it comes to unauthorized observation.

In upcoming sections we will take a look at some basic procedures which can foil the attempts of most would be spies. With exception to employees using company equipment most cell phone owners have the necessary access to the phones memory which can delete even hidden spyware applications. For those facing a cell phone bug which is physically attached to the phones interior we will later discuss ways to find out if your cell phone has been tapped with a hardware device.

While wiretapping laws vary from state to state, federal law states that one party in any communication over a wire must be aware that the conversation is being recorded. Wire is defined as any transfer of sound via a physical wire, a cable or another method of connection which enables more than one speaker to transmit between two locations. While cell phones do transmit sound without wires at certain points, they also utilize wired connections during the time that the cell tower communicates with land lines used to route the conversation. In other words we can assume that cell phone conversations are in fact affected by wiretapping laws.

So if you are trying to find out if your cell phone has been tapped at least you can be confident that anyone who might have tapped your phone could face some serious consequences if they are caught. How serious? According to federal law anyone who records or discloses information with the use of an unauthorized device can face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. There is also the possibility of a civil suit in addition to the above. All things considered anyone who might think about tapping your cell phone would be wise to have a court order or they might end up in a lot of trouble. Then again criminals are quite bold these days and not always that smart.

In order to secure a warrant to tap your phone a member of law enforcement must apply to a federal judge and be granted said warrant. This warrant can only be granted if the judge is provided with probable cause to indicate that a serious crime has been committed or is imminent. In the case that a warrant for wiretapping your phone is granted it will typically be valid for a period of thirty days although they may be renewed at the end of this time period.

Wiretapping laws apply to politicians wives too

If you are wondering whether wiretapping laws allow much protection for citizens then this might be of interest to you. Recently a federal judge issued a ruling against the wife of a legislator for violating state and federal wiretapping laws.

Judge William B. Carter is calling Crystal Goan Hawk a “deceitful trickster” for cyber-stalking her ex-husband James Roy Klumb. Mrs. Goan is currently married to Representative David Hawk of the fifth district. In March of this year she accused Hawk of striking her during an argument. This allegedly resulted in her being knocked to the ground.
According to Hawk it was she who was the aggressor in the dispute. He stated that she in fact pointed a gun at him while he was holding their baby daughter.

According to the judge, both Crystal had installed spyware on Klumb’s work computer which was capable of intercepting email communications. She had apparently discovered correspondence between him and another woman although it was not indicative of any extramarital activities. The judge went on to say that she had drafted two prenuptial agreements. One was according to Klumb’s requirements but the second, which would have left her a huge piece of Klum’s assets if he cheated, was given to her lover to be signed off by a judge.

With the evidence that was presented against her, one would be inclined to believe that this is a case of planned deception for the purpose of financial gain. Of course the allegations of pointing a gun at her husband aren’t going to help her case. If on the other hand she had been on better terms with her current husband one has to wonder if this would have turned out much differently. What is the penalty for violating wiretapping laws? In this case it has been assessed at $20,000 by the judge.

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