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Telephone Surveillance and Bugging - Is it Legal?

  • May 23, 2007
  • by PInow Staff

Recording conversations or listening in to telephone conversations using wiretap is strictly controlled by laws. Understanding how these laws work protects everyone's privacy and can help prevent needless lawsuits.

Telephone bugging, telephone surveillance, wiretapping: these are just a few names for what is essentially the same thing -- listening to someone else's conversation or recording it for later use. While there are many instances of people whose telephones are illegally tapped, placing a bug on a phone must be authorized by a search warrant or court order. While there are plenty of legitimate reasons to want to listen to someone's telephone conversation, knowing what the laws are surrounding private conversations is important for anyone who wants to avoid a messy lawsuit.

According to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, 1,773 wiretap orders were issued by courts in 2005 alone. Obviously, it is much harder to get accurate statistics on illegal telephone surveillance, although it does occur.

What is telephone surveillance?

There are actually a few ways to listen to a telephone conversation or record it. Listeners can use sweeping devices to target phone signals and listen in to conversations. Most often, listeners directly access a telephone line by getting phone access to the line from the phone company. In some cases, listeners use a device and transmitter in order to record a conversation. All these methods are controlled by law.

What are the laws?

According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal law enforcement is allowed to engage in telephone surveillance, but only after getting a court order and only after demonstrating probable cause of a specific colony. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act controls how much and how law-enforcement can wiretap the phone -- in most cases, the communication that is wiretapped must relate only to the felony, and law enforcement is usually only allowed a specific number of days -- usually 30 -- in order to engage in telephone surveillance. Usually, law enforcement is only allowed to obtain wiretaps in cases where aggravated kidnapping, murder, bombings, and any plans to commit these felonies are involved.

In some cases, a warrant may not be required to eavesdrop on a conversation. Federal law enforcement officials with a federal warrant may be able to obtain a wiretap warrant through federal court, even in cases where state officials would not be able to obtain that warrant. In some cases, if law-enforcement authorities have the consent of one person to a telephone conversation, that conversation can be monitored. This allows, for example, someone such as a government informant to give law enforcement officials the right to monitor a conversation for which no warrant has been obtained.

Who can listen in?

In addition, telephone company employees, as well as the employees of certain other companies, may be able to listen in to conversations. For example, the telephone company is allowed to listen in to telephone conversations in order to inspect the phone system, in order to inspect the quality of telephone service, in order to guard against service fraud or other crimes, and in order to provide customers with service. Some companies may monitor telephone conversations with employees and customers, in order to provide employee training, employee monitoring, and better service. For example, when a customer calls into a computer tech help call center, a computerized voice may tell them your call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes, and in these cases, the telephone conversation may be recorded.

Companies who wish to monitor telephone conversations within the company, spouses who wish to monitor their partner's telephone conversations and anyone who requires information that is passed through telephone conversations needs to proceed with extreme caution. Laws surrounding the taping and listening in to private conversations is quite strict. The best option is to hire a private investigator with the experience as well as the knowledge of laws to conduct a thorough, legal investigation. Anyone who needs answers can now turn to the PInow.com Worldwide Directory of Private Investigators to hire a local, qualified investigative professional.

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