Eavesdropping Law & Legal Definition


The crime of eavesdropping means to overhear, record, amplify or transmit any part of the private communication of others without the consent of at least one of the persons engaged in the communication, except as otherwise provided by law. Private communications take place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance, but such term does not include a place to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access. A person commits the crime of criminal eavesdropping if he intentionally uses any device to eavesdrop, whether or not he is present at the time.

Most states nationwide have their own wiretapping/electronic surveillance statutes, which vary by state. It is not illegal to record conversations if parties’ awareness and consent to the interception of the communication exists. There are certain limited exceptions to the general prohibition against electronic surveillance. The exceptions exist for so-called "providers of wire or electronic communication service" (e.g., telephone companies and the like) and law enforcement in the furtherance of criminal investigative activities. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 allows employers to listen to "job-related" conversations. The ECPA gives employers almost total freedom to listen to any phone conversation, since it can be argued that it takes a few minutes to decide if a call is personal or job-related. However, this exception applies only to the employer, not the employee.

A person can violate such statutes by the following:

  1. he/she can unlawfully intercept or procure another to unlawfully intercept a wire, oral or electronic communication;
  2. he/she can unlawfully disclose the contents of an electronic, oral or wire communication;
  3. he/she can unlawfully use the contents of an electronic, oral or wire communication; and
  4. he/she can unlawfully advertise, sell or possess an "electronic, mechanical or other device(s)" which, by its design renders it primarily useful for the surreptitious interception of electronic, oral or wire communications. Evidence of communications obtained in violation of these statutes may be suppressed at proceedings and persons illegally obtaining them are subject to lawsuit and/or removal from their position.