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Thread: Police scanner app for smartphones may not be code 4

  1. #1
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    Thumbs down Police scanner app for smartphones may not be code 4

    This is important and you might want to consider this before downloading apps that monitior police frequencies. You might want to think about it when you travel to another state with your cell phone in your pocket and the app on your phone.

    --------

    Juicy Development

    Police Scanner is available for $2.99 in the iPhone App Store.



    By M. Alex Johnson, msnbc.com reporter

    Matthew A. Hale, 29, was arrested last week in Muncie, Ind., after he allegedly fled the scene of a failed stickup at a pharmacy.

    Police accused Hale of being the getaway driver for an accomplice who was supposed to rob the pharmacy. But Hale drove off when things went sour, only to be stopped and arrested shortly thereafter, they said. Bail was set this week at $25,000 on felony charges of attempted armed robbery.



    It's all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, except for one thing: How did Hale know the heist was falling apart inside the pharmacy as he sat outside in the car?

    How did he know to take off?



    Matthew Hale, it turned out, had a smartphone — specifically, a Droid from Verizon Wireless. And on that Droid he had an app that he used to monitor Muncie police radio traffic, Detective Jim Johnson said.

    If you're one of the millions of smartphone users who've downloaded scanner apps with names like iScanner, PoliceStream and 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, pay attention:

    You might be breaking the law.



    Hale, in fact, was initially charged with a second violation, unlawful use of a police radio, which is a misdemeanor. Court records show that prosecutors chose to go ahead only with the felony attempted robbery charges when Hale goes to court in July.



    That doesn't change things for Detective Johnson. "The statute is that if it's being used as a police radio, that's illegal to have," he told my NBC colleague Chris Profitt of WTHR-TV in Indianapolis.



    50 states, 50 laws
    Should you scrub that scanner app from your phone? It depends. The law, it turns out, is quite literally all over the map on whether it's legal to use scanner apps on smartphones.

    "As you look across the United States, we have 50 different states, and every state has different laws on things like obstruction of justice," said Benjamin Wright, a legal scholar in data security and forensics technology at the SANS Institute in Bethesda, Md., which teaches law enforcement and other security personnel the ins and outs of technology. (An earlier version of this post misspelled Benjamin Wright's name.)



    It is legal to own a police scanner radio; on that, pretty much everyone agrees. Where things get sticky is when you take it out of your home. The problem, police and legal experts say, is that if you have it with you — in other words, if it's a mobile police scanner — then you can use it the way Matthew Hale is accused of: to aid in the commission of some other crime.



    At least five states — Indiana among them, along with Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota and New York — make it illegal to use a mobile police scanner without a license from the Federal Communications Commission (i.e., a ham license) or permission from local law enforcement.



    At least seven others, somewhat tautologously, make it illegal to use a mobile scanner explicitly in the commission of another crime. (They're California, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.)

    In all of those states, a bewildering array of conditions and exemptions may apply: Is the radio "installed" in a vehicle or simply carried? Is it just a relay for a fixed radio? Perhaps you're a journalist on assignment — if so, you're all set in Indiana and Florida, where you're otherwise supposed to have an FCC license or the cops' permission.



    'You could be at risk in any state'
    The rest of the states don't clearly address the issue at all. That's because the laws were written in an era when "police scanner" meant a bulky box costing several hundred dollars that you could buy only at Radio Shack. They didn't envision a time when anyone could push a button, download an app and begin listening in immediately.



    The apps don't even turn your phone into a true scanner. Instead, they receive feeds from police, fire and EMS channels all over the country, streamed over the Internet — and over your cellular network — to your device. You don't need to be in radio range, or even in the same state, for them to work.



    "The technology is Buck Rogers stuff that nobody had heard of or thought of at the time the law was written," Wright told me. "This is the latest example of old laws bumping against new technologies where the application of the law is not clear."



    "The outcome can often be a checkerboard, with very similar laws from one state to the next but different outcomes," he said. "In one state if you make it to a court, the court will rule it doesn't violate this law. Another court in another state will rule it does."



    Until then, unwritten laws on obstruction of justice could apply, and that could be bad news for developers and customers alike, because "that is a general common law that doesn't have to be written down in any legislation," Wright said. Which means that "to the extent that you are using some type of app that is interpreted as obstructing justice, you could be at risk in any state, even in a state with no particular legislation."



    While it's smart for app makers to include a warning in the terms of service to check your local laws, "I could envision somebody taking a hard-nosed attitude against these app makers regardless of them having these disclaimers and some prosecutor taking a position that these things are an obstruction of justice," he said. "I can envision a prosecutor trying to indict the app makers.

    "It's something for an app maker to think about. You're making 5 bucks a pop for making these apps, and you've suddenly got a criminal indictment. That is not fun to deal with."



    More cases could be likely
    And it means things will keep happening like what happened to Cory C. Todd of Louisville, Ky.

    In November, Louisville police charged Todd with possessing a mobile radio "capable of either receiving or transmitting radio or other messages or signals used by law enforcement."

    Todd had three scanner apps installed on his phone when police searched it during their investigation of an unrelated case. He wasn't even using them at the time — he simply had them on his phone.

    (Court records don't make it clear how that charge might eventually be resolved. The question of whether police had probable cause to legally search his phone is an entirely separate, equally thorny issue.)



    So far, cases like Hale's and Todd's are very rare. The apps have been on the market for only a couple of years. But it's likely that more cases are on the way, because the public likes the apps and the police don't, and the laws are squishy.



    The apps may be illegal in Indiana, but "I'd rather be safe than anything else," said Eugenea Jones Bare, a homemaker and mom in Muncie. "I'd rather have my kids safe."

    But Jim Johnson, the Muncie detective, was just as determined. People shouldn't have the apps, he said, because the bad guys are simply going to "use that to assist in their crimes."



    More on crime and smartphones from msnbc.com:
    Charles Manson had cellphone under prison mattress
    Follow Alex on Twitter at @MAlexJohnson, and join the conversation at Technolog's Facebook page.

    Browse: police, law, louisville-ky, apps, smartphones, scanner, scanners, eugenea-bare, muncie-ind, benjamin-wright

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    This is very important and I hope people read it carefully. There are already threads started all over this forum with people wanting to know which scanner app and where to find it. One can only hope such a thread doesn't get closed or moved to some remote part of this forum where nobody will ever read it. If there's one thing I've noticed about the sub forums is that they get very little traffic and most questions and issues posted there are never addressed. Something I noticed is that the op used copy and paste to put the whole news story on here instead of posting a link to the story.

    Okay, lets say you are a paramedic in small town Kansas and you have permission to monitor local frequencies, you could still get in trouble using you phone and apps in Dallas, Texas. I also live in a small town, rural community where we have an all volunteer fire department and they get paged out for fire and rescue calls. Normally pagers and portable scanners are only carried when in and around the comunnity serviced. Pagers/radios don't normally go out of town, but cell phones are with you all the time and could be considered a mobile scanner in some states which is illegal.

    Sadly, a mod will come along and this thread will be moved to who knows where and lost forever. We don't even get told where these threads are moved to, the're just gone.

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    1.) I'm not sure why this idiot ever opened his mouth about the app.
    2.) You can always get a license from the FCC to carry a scanner in your car if you so choose.

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    Actually, as with most things this will end up for the courts to define BUT, I believe in most states that have laws banning possession of mobile police scanners the laws define a scanner similar as to the way Indiana Law defines it.
    Indiana's Law states, in part " (c) As used in this section, "police radio" means a radio that is capable of sending or receiving signals transmitted on frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission for police emergency purposes and that:
    (1) can be installed, maintained, or operated in a vehicle; or
    (2) can be operated while it is being carried by an individual.
    The term does not include a radio designed for use only in a dwelling."

    The problem here is your cell phone is most certainly is a radio, and it most certainly meets criteria 1 and 2 but it simply IS NOT "capable of sending or receiving signals transmitted on frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission for police emergency purposes".
    It IS, however, capable of receiving a RE-TRANSMITTAL of those frequencies on a DIFFERENT frequency and that's what the courts will need to determine -- whether the receiving of the re-transmittal actually violates the law.

    YMMV -- check the individual laws where you are, or are going....


    Oh, and one other thought -- if the courts so decide that receiving the re-transmittal of those signals is indeed a violation then keep in mind that, by extension, ANY DEVICE CAPABLE OF ACCESSING THE INTERNET would become illegal to possess on a mobile basis.
    You don't need the app on a phone to hear the signals -- there are various websites where all you need is an internet browser to do the same thing.
    And since, with most smart phones you CANNOT uninstall the native browser then you no longer could carry a smart phone.

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    If you are a law abiding citizen you have nothing to worry about having a scanner app on your phone. It's not like some cop is gonna pull you over and say "License, registration, cell phone"
    Now if you plan to commit a crime you may want to delete the app first
    For 99.999% of people this is not an issue to worry about.

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    I think it should be legal for us to monitor police radio since our tax dollars fund them and they can monitor us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OmegaWolf747 View Post
    I think it should be legal for us to monitor police radio since our tax dollars fund them and they can monitor us.

    Tappin' and talkin' with Tapatalk
    Exactly.

    But, all unenforceable laws aside, you only hear about the idiots getting caught doing things like this.

    It takes all of about 15 seconds to do this on an Android phone: Click Settings -> Applications -> Manage Applications -> Select "Illegal App X" -> Click Uninstall.

    Or, for the truly paranoid, Settings -> Privacy -> Factory Data Reset.

    You'd think criminals would think their cunning plans through a little better, but then again, smart criminals don't make the nightly news.

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    The Communications Act establishes that a person can own a scanner and listen to police radio signals firsthand. Retransmitting them or even telling a friend what you heard on the scanner is not necessarily legal. Since this retransmission is going over the Internet though, pretty much anything goes.

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    I guess it's against the law but as others have said, it's fairly unenforceable. Cops simply can't go through your phone without a good reason to.

    Sent from my VZW Thunderbolt.

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    What kind of license would I need to apply for to use a mobile scanner? If I get a ham radio license I can legally use the app?

    As far as I know, in order for the cops to look at your cell phone you would either need to give them permission or they would need to get a warrant. If you are robbing a bank on the other hand, they most likely have enough on you one more minor charge isn't going to matter much. Just FYI, it's really not very smart to tell the cops you knew they were coming because you have this app on your phone that monitors their radio calls.......

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    Yep they would need a warrant or good probable cause to go through your phone. I really can't imagine how they would get probable cause to look through a cell phone. And yeah, don't tell them that you knew they were coming cause of an application.

    Sent from my VZW Thunderbolt.

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    If anyone knows anything about these scanner apps knows they are not all that realiable if you wanted to actually use them to get away from police.

    They are delayed by about 20-30 seconds and most people are scanning multiple things with the scanner so you may miss traffic that you are looking for.

    It's not illegal to own a scanner or carry a scanner. Some states have laws about carrying a scanner in a vehicle however most of these laws exempt amateur radio operators.

    People who think they can use these apps to get away have a false sense of security. Sure they might work once in awhile but often they are going to do more harm than good in a false sense of thinking you're up. Besides using a scanner while committing a crime will just add on more charges.

    The local police here have the ability to use complete P25 encryption. They do use it for important comms such as swat and operations but the dispatch channels are unencrypted and anyone with a digital scanner and half a brain can listen.

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    If you are a breaking the law, and you happen to get caught by a cop, AND they happen to notice you are listening to police broadcasts on your cell phone... then you might have a problem.

    In California it's illegal to use a scanner in the commission of a crime. Otherwise, no problems

    But in general a cop is never going to know what you have one your phone unless you are dumb enough to let them look.

    Having a password on your phone can help but remember, never consent to a search and handing your phone to a cop is consenting to letting him search it.

    These "smart" phones are great, but they can also be a liability. They contain all kinds of personal data about what we do, who we talk to, where we spend our time. All things that could be used against you later if you're not paying attention when/if dealing with law enforcement.

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    How long is jail time if commiting a misdemeanor?......

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    Quote Originally Posted by Airfare View Post
    How long is jail time if commiting a misdemeanor?......
    Jail time is one year or less. Felonies require jail time of one year or more.

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