#OccupyBoston Police Scanner Recordings

Early on the morning of October 11, the Boston PD arrested over 100 people who were part of the #OccupyBoston camp. Oliver Day has posted a recording of police scanner activity from that night to SoundCloud, where it’s been getting some great annotating attention. Being able to establish a timeline of events for that night is extremely helpful from academic, legal and logistical perspectives.

Something Oliver and I have been talking about is the strange world of the legality of police scanners. Apparently, in New York City, it is illegal to have a police scanner in a car, or to be listening to one as you wander around, unless you have an FCC-issued radio license. I’m sure that the enforcement of this regulation varies depending on what’s going on in the city, and it wouldn’t surprise me if enforcement was up over the past few months. One question this brings up, though, is the legality of the various police scanner apps that are available for iPhone and Android phones. After all, it’s not a scanner, but it is accessing all the same information. Yet another issue of the trans-jurisdictional nature of online marketplaces making a (potentially) interesting mess.

The analysis of the laws that I’ve been able to find (with a small amount of non-exhaustive Googling) seem to mostly refer to the possession of the police scanner itself. Courts have found that it applies even to scanners in a non-working conditions as they are “still capable of receiving signals.” So, a few questions. Does the ability to stream digitally-converted police scanner signals turn a smart phone into a default police scanner, one that, when functioning as such, could be subject to confiscation? Does the People v. Verdino decision mean that any smart phone equipped with police scanner app, even one that is not running at the time, could also be subject to confiscation?

Any comments from the peanut gallery on this one? Especially if you’re from New York or have been to the #OWS camp (or any other #Occupy camp), speak up!