What Are the Surveilance Laws in Minnesota?

By Paul Caruso

If you are a person interested in intercepting telecommunications for the purpose of surveillance and you are not a law enforcement officer, you may not want to practice this hobby in Minnesota. Lawmakers in the Land of 10,000 Lakes have decided that they do not particularly care for the practice of unwarranted surveillance--or, at least not telecommunications surveillance conducted by civilians. As such, state law stands ready to lump out fairly severe penalties for those caught in the act of elicit surveillance.

Party Consent

Under Minnesota law, no party may intercept or otherwise capture or record an electronic oral communication exchange between two parties unless at least one of the parties involved in the intercepted conversation consents to such eavesdropping or recording. Under this section of law, a person who has hired a third party for the purpose of this electronic surveillance may also be prosecuted for the same offense.

This section of law also pertains to the use of any device for the purpose of illegal surveillance if the device is affixed to the phone lines or phone equipment involved, or if the device is design to intercept radio (as in the instance of cordless phones) or cellular transmissions.

Disclosure

It is also against Minnesota law for a party who has intercepted communications through any form of electronic surveillance to use information gained through those means for any commercial, harmful (as may be the case with harassment) or for gain in conjunction with civil legal action. Likewise, it is illegal for any person who is authorized to intercept such communications to inappropriately disclose the contents of the communications to unauthorized parties.

Exemptions

Individuals who are permitted under Minnesota law to intercept telecommunications are employees of a telecommunications provider if they are randomly tapping into communications while conducting quality checks, or for other duties necessary to their legal employment, or if they are requested to do so by a customer who is receiving harassing, threatening or lewd phone calls. Similarly, a private individual may record such unwelcome phone calls without the consent of the other party for the purpose of identification.

Minnesota law also permits the Federal Communications Commission personnel to monitor telecommunications as provided for under federal law.

Under state law, law enforcement personnel operating in their official capacity may only record or intercept telecommunications if one of the parties involved has given consent or if the law enforcement officer is one of the parties in the intercepted communication.

Radio communications accidentally intercepted, or which are otherwise publicly available, are exempt from these surveillance laws. Such communications may be police or emergency responder radio communications picked up through a scanner.

Penalties

Under Minnesota law, any person found guilty of violating the state's electronic surveillance laws may face up to five years in prison and/or fines up to $20,000.

If a person is found guilty of illegally intercepting or recording a telecommunication and it is their first such offense, and the intercepted communication was not encrypted, scrambled, the radio transmission from a cordless phone, or a cell phone signal, then the person may receive up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $3,000.

If an individual is convicted of having intercepted a cell phone signal or a radio signal emanating from a cordless telephone, then they may receive a fine of up to $500.

If a person willfully informs the subject of law enforcement surveillance that they are being watched and/or listened to, with the intent to impede an investigation, then that person may face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

About the Author

Paul Caruso is a freelance journalist with many years experience writing on a diverse set of subject matter. Caruso has written on technology, health, environment and international politics. His work has appeared in several publications, including Worlpress.org and NewsTarget.com.

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