In Colorado, illegal surveillance concerns the protection of conversations, including those over phone and other electronic media. It does not take into account surveillance of one's physical person such as photographs or video, although other states do.
Colorado law makes it illegal for anyone to listen into a conversation in which she is not taking part. This includes overhearing, reading, copying, recording of telephone calls and recording of any other electronic communications. Although obtaining information for the purpose of a crime is part of the statute, simply listening in purposely is enough to violate the law.
Eavesdropping is a lesser charge and carries a lighter sentence than wiretapping. The reason for this is that it requires a person to be physically present and to overhear a conversation without the use of long-range devices. Wiretapping differs, because the use of devices to overhear allows a person to obtain information from a distance, and without being physically present in the vicinity of the conversation in question.
A broad provision of the statute makes it illegal to make, buy, sell or possess any electronic device that is commonly used for wiretapping and eavesdropping. Although the terms are broad, it is likely intended to cover items such as scanners that can tune into the frequency of a cellular phone call.
It is important to remember that Colorado is a single-consent state. That means that only one party has to agree to the recording of a conversation. For example, a pre-recorded message or a posted sign, so long as it is clear in explaining that a conversation will be recorded, constitutes adequate notice of consent. Simply being aware of a recording taking place gives an implied consent to the recording and may be used to counter any claim that the recording was obtained illegally.
Wiretapping carries the most heavy penalties, a maximum fine of $100,000 dollars and up to 18 months in jail. Eavesdropping, unlike wiretapping, is a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The maximum penalty for eavesdropping is a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to 18 months in jail. Violations of the devices requirement carries a first-time maximum fine $1,000 and one year in jail.