What Are the Legalities of Cellphone Tapping?

Cellphone tapping of third-party conversations without their consent is illegal, states the Houston Chronicle. When one or both parties on a conversation consent to the recording, it becomes legal. Monitoring of phone conversations by law enforcement officials is legal once they have a court order, while companies may legally tap their company phone lines, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Most federal laws legalize cellphone recording on the grounds that one party on the phone conversation consents in advance to the recording, according to the Houston Chronicle. However, in 12 states, including California, Florida, Montana, Nevada and Washington, both parties on the phone conversation must provide full consent to the recording for it to be legal.

The Federal Wiretapping Act makes it illegal to intentionally intercept other people’s phone communications, making the use of such intercepted information illegal and inadmissible for law enforcement, reports the Houston Chronicle. However, an employer can legally monitor all calls made by employees on company phones.

Upon showing probable cause of unlawful activity involving a particular violation, law enforcement officials may tap a cellphone conversation, states the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The court order limits such surveillance to a maximum of 30 days. The one-party consent provision allows law enforcers to tap or record phone conversations without a court order. It is also legal for telephone company employees to record a conversation with a customer for quality purposes or to provide a certain service.