Yes. You heard right. Apparently the same laws which regulate mobile scanner usage are ALSO being applied to phone applications that are available which allow users to monitor local police frequencies. While your phone itself is not technically a "scanner", some states see the use of the downloadable applications as effectively turning the phone INTO one. If you don't have a ham license, or some form of permission slip, or some other form on exemption, be forewarned that those scanner aps COULD lead you into trouble!

Here are some articles about that:

  1. Warning: Police Scanner Aps Could Laad You To Serve Hard Time.
  2. Man Arrested For Fleeing The Scene After Being Tipped Off From His DROID Police Scanner App
  3. Police on radio scanner apps: That's not a 10-4

Okay, a few things here. While I'm not at all condoning the use of scanners (and now..."apps") by criminals to commit a crime, nor am I complaining about a criminal's "right to use" said devices to commit a crime (so don't go banging me with emails about such a thing!), there are a number of grey areas being stepped into here, which lawyers and police departments, and city, county, state, and federal agencies need to consider...

First, phones are phones, not scanenrs. An "app" is available for anything and everything under the sun. They're created by John Nobody Important who knows nothing about how the laws regulating the use of LITERAL handheld scanners might be consctrewed by some police agency to be considered the equivalent of such a device. As I see it, the laws now out there don't regulate "apps". They regulate the "LITERAL" scanning "RADIO", mounted in some way either in your vehicle or on your person as to be considered "mobile". APPS, on the other hand, can be installed simply, and their creators don't unclude warnings about the use of such a thing because there IS no regulation specifically FOR them at this time.

If any state is to use a "scanner law" against the use of a phone "app", then those laws need to be REVISED to as to include their use. Most of these laws were created BEFORE the invention of the cellphone and DEFINITELY WAY before the invention of these brand new things called "apps", and so they were definitely NOT designed to include them by the thinking of the legislators at the time. This is a grey area where I foresee police departments and city, county ,state, and federal agencies getting themselves into a LOT of trouble over if someone decided to SUE them over that. I would advise caution on the part of said agencies and departments where phone apps are concerned, and begin redrafting current legislation so as to properly include verbiage specifically including mobile telephone "applications". I'm not trying to be an asshole, here. I'm just statiing the obvious, and trying to save everybody on all sides a LOT of expense and wasted lawsuit time. THINK, people. Keep a cool head, here.

Meantime, application end users should be aware of the problem out there. Application designers and sellers should include statements warning people about this, so as to cover their asses. And Police departments, and other departments and agencies should NEVER, EVER "guess" about a law's verbiage and how it was intended. We too often hear of officers doing such a thing on the spot, and it's not right.

There are a lot of other people who never had a clue what a "scanner" was until they came across the phone application, much less who are aware that some law regarding something called a "scanner" could be wildly and quite deliberately contorted to include something that the law at the time it was created was not at ALL intended to include because they didn't at the time EXIST, especially if that conclusion is reached by someone who is NOT a lawyer or a legislator or a Judge.

What does this bode for services such as Incident Page Network (IPN), which send text message summaries of things heard on scanners to pagers and cellphones? Does this mean they're illegal, too? How far are people going to interpret this to go? These services have been out there for YEARS with a precedent of no one having ever done anything to stop THOSE services. Could it be then said that the "precedence" set was that governments didn't CARE, and thus by implication, their use was ALLOWED? I can go all night on this.

Vague legislation can put an innocent person in jail, or at the least incur unnecessary hefty fines on someone who doesn't deserve it. If you want to make these things illegal, then SPECIFY it in the lawbooks, or else you're quite literally "pulling a law out of your stiff-brimmed hat." (I was going to use another word, but kids could be reading this.) Obstruction of justice" is one thing. Penalizing innocent people who didn't know that a law intended for a completely different object entirely could be applied to that cellphone they just bought isn't fair or correct at all.

Todd Sherman, Webmaster
Mobile Scanner & RADAR-Detector Laws In The United States
May 26, 2011

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