Wiretapping

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Wire Tapping
Learn about wire tapping and phone tapping

What is Wiretapping?

This article provides an overview of wiretapping, including a review of the Wiretap Act and a list of one-party and two-party consent states. Wiretapping, also known as telephone tapping, is the process of monitoring telephone and Internet conversations by a third party, often by covert means. Wiretapping received its name because the monitoring connection was an physical electrical tap that was placed on the telephone line. 

The Wiretap Act

The Wiretap Act (18 U.S. Code § 2511) is a federal law that protects privacy in communications with other persons. Under the Act, it is illegal to intentionally or purposefully intercept, disclose, or use the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication through the use of a “device.” There are civil and criminal penalties for violating the Act, but there are exceptions.

Types of Wiretapping

Intentional wiretapping refers to someone who deliberately intercepts a communication. Ignorance of the law cannot be used as a defense when it is violated.

Legal wiretapping by a government agency is also called “lawful interception”.

Passive wiretapping monitors or records the conversation traffic, while active wiretapping alters or otherwise affects it.

Eavesdropping is the simple act of listening to other people’s conversation without their knowledge. Usually, no special equipment is involved or necessary for someone to eavesdrop on a conversation. In some situations, private investigators use sound amplification equipment to listen to conversations at a distance. 

How Wiretapping Works

HowStuffWorks has a great video that explains how the process works.

List of One-Party Consent States

The following states require only one party to consent to recording a phone call or conversation to make the recording lawful.

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
Colorado
District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Michigan (see other statute)
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana

Nebraska
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Rhode Island (see case law)
South Carolina (no statute, see case law)
South Dakota
Tennesee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
West Virginia
Wisconsin (see other statute)
Wyoming

List of Two-Party Consent States

The following states require the consent of every party to record a phone call or conversation to make the recording lawful.

California
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Maryland
Massachusetts

Nevada
New Hampshire
Pennsylvania
Vermont
Washington
Illinois

What do Private Investigators Need to Know?

Private investigators need to know that wiretapping is illegal. Intentionally using wire tapping technology to intercept communications is in violation of the law and will carry consequences.

In cases where a private investigator is conducting counter-surveillance, it may be helpful to understand what a physical tap looks like and how it operates. Having an understanding of the technology used will help investigators uncover evidence of wire taps. Private investigators can use electronic bug detectors to scan for such devices.

Mobile Phone Spy Software

Mobile Phone Spy Software is a similar process used by parents and employers to monitor phones and computers that they own. For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.

Questions and Comments

If you have any questions about wire tapping or phone tapping, please leave a message below.

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