What is a police scanner

Listening to police radio: Receiving frequencies with the app, radio and online - is it allowed?

Would you like to listen to the police radio and be there live at the police operations? It used to be possible if you tuned the radio to the appropriate frequencies - but what about the Internet and Co. in the digital age? And much more important: is it even allowed to tap the police radio? We explain in our guide.

 

When police officers are on missions, the officers use certain frequencies to communicate with the headquarters. Police authorities and other public security organs also use this frequency range to coordinate operations, e.g. to transmit important messages or to lead emergency services. Colloquially this is referred to as police radio - the official name for it is: "Non-public mobile VHF land radio service of the police."

Bet you haven't installed all of these apps on your smartphone yet?

Listening to the police radio: is that possible?

Even if it is actually forbidden, unauthorized persons can eavesdrop on the police radio. There are different methods:

  • In the past, the police used analog radio technology across the board - with the appropriate conversion of a radio, you could also listen to the frequencies that were reserved for police radio.
  • In some parts of Germany this is still possible - but since 2009 the police have been increasingly switching radio to the new digital radio of the authorities and organizations with security tasks (BOSNet).
  • This is a digital transmission standard with end-to-end encryption. Therefore it is no longer possible to eavesdrop on these frequencies.
  • With a radio scanner, you can theoretically also listen to the digital police radio - if you know the frequencies.
  • There are also pages and apps on the Internet that (supposedly) make it possible to eavesdrop on police radio online.

In any case, there is still an interest in listening to the police during their operations. But these are not necessarily mainly criminals who have a “natural” interest in it - in many cases pure curiosity is in the foreground: Many people just want to know what is going on behind the scenes. But what about the legal situation? Is it allowed to eavesdrop on the police radio without further ado? And what if the police catch you doing it?

Listening to police radio: punishable or not?

The designation "non-public mobile VHF land radio service of the police" already gives an initial indication of what the legal situation is. The police radio is an official command and control tool that is used exclusively by state organs. Unauthorized persons are therefore not allowed to eavesdrop on the police radio. This is regulated in paragraph §89 of the Telecommunications Act, where it specifically says:

Section 89 Ban on eavesdropping, duty of confidentiality for the operators of receiving systems

A radio system may only listen to messages that are intended for the operator of the radio system, radio amateurs within the meaning of the Amateur Radio Act of June 23, 1997 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 1494), the general public or an indefinite group of people. The content of messages other than those mentioned in sentence 1 and the fact that they have been received may not be communicated to others, even if they were received unintentionally, even by persons for whom an obligation of confidentiality does not already exist under Section 88. Section 88 (4) applies accordingly. The interception and forwarding of messages on the basis of special legal authorization remain unaffected.

In other words: with any type of radio system, you can only eavesdrop on four things:

  1. Emissions for the operator of the radio system
  2. Broadcasts for radio amateurs
  3. Broadcasts for the general public
  4. Broadcasts for an indefinite group of people

Since the police radio is clearly intended for a certain group of people, it is not permitted to tap into the radio traffic of the authorities. Incidentally, this applies not only to police radio, but also to radio communications from other public bodies, e.g. the fire brigade, rescue services and disaster control, as well as services such as airlines and railways.

What if the police catch you?

If you listen to the police radio and are caught by the police, you face severe penalties. Unauthorized eavesdropping on the police radio is a Imprisonment up to 2 years or a heavy fine punished. Incidentally, this also applies if you unintentionally come across the police radio and consciously continue listening or pass on the content of the overheard transmission to third parties.

In recent years there have been numerous judgments dealing with the wiretapping of the police radio. The "Burgdorf scanner judgment" from 1997 is often quoted. A local court interpreted paragraph 89 in favor of a journalist in such a way that everything that can be received with a normal radio scanner is legal. This ruling was subsequently revised, including a ruling by the Bavarian Supreme Court, which sentenced a CB radio operator in 1999 after listening to the police radio and reaffirmed the general ban on eavesdropping.

So you'd better keep your hands off the police radio - if you're honest, there are probably more interesting things to listen to. We'll show you the best radio apps for your smartphone or tablet. You can also read with us how you can upload your own music with Amazon Prime Musice.

Image sources: video monitoring surveillance security system and A female police officer standing next to her car about to talk on the radio via Shutterstock

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