The state of
Virginia has for as long as I remember had a law prohibiting the use of
radar detectors in vehicles.
For the same amount of time, controversy has existed over whether the ban violates
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regarding interception and divulgence
of radio communications. As outlined in the statement on the the FCC website (see
below), there does not appear to be justification for Virginia's law. To wit, "The
FCC and the Communications Act do not forbid certain types of interception and disclosure
of radio communications, including: Mere interception of radio communications, such
as overhearing your neighbor's conversation over a cordless telephone, or listening
to emergency service reports on a radio scanner." That seems pretty unambiguous.
The main point is you may not divulge to someone else the intercepted communication,
which means you cannot relay your knowledge of a radar speed gun signal over a CB
radio or cellphone. That applies to all states.
For the latest information, go to the
Federal and state laws make intercepting and divulging radio communications illegal
and punishable by severe criminal penalties, with certain exceptions.
What kinds of interception and divulgence of radio transmissions are
The FCC and the Communications Act do not forbid certain types of interception
and disclosure of radio communications, including:
- Mere interception of radio communications, such as overhearing your neighbor’s
conversation over a cordless telephone, or listening to emergency service reports
on a radio scanner (although intercepting and/or recording telephone-related radio
communications may be a violation of other federal or state laws).
- Divulgence of certain radio communications that were transmitted for use by
the public (such as over-the-air radio and television broadcasts).
- Divulgence of broadcasts related to ships, aircraft, vehicles or persons in
- Divulgence of transmissions by amateur radio or citizen band radio operators.
What kinds of interception and divulgence are prohibited?
The Communications Act prohibits a person from using an intercepted radio communication
for his or her own benefit. Examples of this include:
- A taxicab company intercepting radio communications between dispatchers and
drivers of a rival company to gain competitive advantages.
- Unauthorized interception of signals from pay television services, such as cable
- A person selling or publishing a recording or contents of someone else’s wireless
What about equipment used to intercept radio communications?
The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from authorizing radio scanning equipment
- Can receive transmissions in the frequencies allocated to domestic cellular
- Can readily be altered by the user to intercept cellular communications.
- May be modified to convert digital transmissions to analog voice audio.
It is illegal to manufacture, import, sell or lease such unauthorized equipment
in the United States.
Interception and Divulgence of Radio Communications (download PDF)
Here is the previous statement circa 2008
Interception and divulgence of radio communications is governed by many jurisdictions,
including federal and state. Since September 11, 2001, many of the rules have changed.
Some federal and state laws make intercepting and divulging radio communications
unlawful and may subject the violator to severe criminal penalties. The Department
of Justice has the authority to prosecute violators of these laws.
Unauthorized Publications of Communications
The FCC has the authority to interpret Section 705 of the Communications Act
– "Unauthorized Publication of Communications." This section generally does not
prohibit the mere interception of radio communications, although merely intercepting
radio communications may violate other federal or state laws. This means that if
you inadvertently happen to overhear your neighbor’s cordless telephone conversation
or listen to radio transmissions on your scanner, such as emergency service reports,
you do not violate the Communications Act.
The Communications Act also allows the divulgence of certain types of radio transmissions.
The law specifies that there are no restrictions on the divulgence or use of radio
communications that have been transmitted for the use of the general public. Such
radio communications include transmissions of a local radio or television broadcast
station; announcements relating to ships, aircraft, vehicles, or persons in distress;
or transmissions by amateur or citizens band radio operators.
Section 705 prohibits a person from using an intercepted radio communication
for his or her own benefit. One court held that, under this provision, a taxicab
company may sue its competitor for wrongfully intercepting and using for its benefit
radio communications between the company’s dispatchers and drivers. A more recent
Supreme Court decision, however, questions the ability of the government to regulate
the disclosure of legally-obtained radio communications, and this area of the law
In addition, the courts have determined that the act of viewing a transmission
– such as a pay television signal – that the viewer was not authorized to receive
is a "publication" and this violates Section 705. Section 705 also prohibits the
interception of satellite cable programming for private home viewing if the programming
is either encrypted (i.e., scrambled) or is not encrypted, but is sold through a
marketing system. To legally intercept such a transmission, you must have authorization
from the programming provider.
The Communications Act also contains provisions that affect the manufacture of
equipment used for listening to or receiving radio transmissions, such as "scanners."
The FCC cannot authorize scanning equipment that:
In addition, these receivers may not be manufactured in the United States or imported
for use in the United States. FCC regulations also prohibit the sale or lease of
scanning equipment that is not authorized by the FCC.
- can receive transmissions in the frequencies allocated to domestic cellular
- can readily be altered by the user to intercept cellular communications; or
- may be equipped with decoders that convert digital transmissions to analog voice
Filing a Complaint with the FCC
If you have concerns regarding the interception and divulgence of radio communications,
you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint.
You can file your complaint using the on-line complaint Form 2000E found on the
FCC Web site at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us.
You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by e-mailing
firstname.lastname@example.org; calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
What to Include in Your Complaint
The best way to provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint
is to complete fully the on-line complaint Form 2000E. If you do not use the on-line
complaint Form 2000E, your complaint, at a minimum, should indicate:
If you have information regarding a violation of any federal criminal statute, you
should contact your local FBI office.
- your name, address, email address, and phone number where you can be reached;
- name and phone number of the company that you are complaining about; and
- any additional details of your complaint, including time, date, and nature of
the conduct or activity you are complaining about and identifying information for
any companies, organizations, or individuals involved.
For More Information
For more information on recording telephone conversations, see the FCC’s consumer
fact sheet at www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/recordcalls.html.
For information about other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer &
Governmental Affairs Bureau Web site at www.fcc.gov/cgb, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center using the
information provided for filing a complaint.
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
445 12th St. S.W. · Washington, DC 20554
For this or any other consumer publication in an accessible format (electronic
ASCII text, Braille, large print, or audio) please write or call us at the address
or phone number below, or send an e-mail to FCC504@fcc.gov.
To receive information on this and other FCC consumer topics through the Commission's
electronic subscriber service, visit www.fcc.gov/cgb/contacts/. This document is for consumer education
purposes only and is not intended to affect any proceeding or cases involving this
subject matter or related issues.
Posted November 5, 2020(original 3/10/08)