Scanning the Cellular Privacy Issue

By Aversa, Jeannine | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

Scanning the Cellular Privacy Issue


Aversa, Jeannine, THE JOURNAL RECORD


WASHINGTON -- Bob Grove makes no bones about it. For a fee, his North Carolina company will modify a radio scanner to pick up cellular phone conversations.

Isn't that illegal?

Grove says no. But cellular telephone executives and others disagree. To protect cellular callers' privacy, a federal law, which took effect in 1994, made it illegal for companies to import, manufacture and sell in the United States scanners that work on cellular frequencies. Federal regulations say radio scanners "must be incapable of operating" on cellular frequencies or cannot be "readily altered" by the user to work on them. Grove insists that he is within the bounds of the law and federal regulations because his company, Grove Enterprises Inc., neither sells nor markets altered scanners. "There is no caveat, no direct prohibition against modifying those scanners which are here," Grove claims. While those precise words are not used in the law or regulations, communications attorneys say companies or individuals that modify scanners to pick up cellular signals are violating federal provisions. "The creative lawyers always claim loopholes," said Thomas Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. "The intent of the Congress was clear, and I believe that will be backed up by the courts and if not by the Congress itself. It is wrong," he said. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the incoming chairman of the House Commerce Committee's telecommunications subcommittee, wants to hold hearings in early February to look into abuses of the law and possible loopholes. "Clearly, the intent of the law is to not only prevent the sale of scanners that can intercept cellular phone calls, but also to prevent their reconfiguration," said Tauzin's spokesman Ken Johnson. …

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