Can an individual listen to a live broadcast of a police scanner? The City of Terre Haute, Indiana, hopes that the answer to that question is no.
The Terre Haute City Attorney recently sent a cease and desist letter to an organization that broadcasts police scanner traffic. http://forums.radioreference.com/community-announcements-news/344362-broadcastify-receives-cease-desist-terre-haute-city-attorney.html (last visited December 31, 2016). The City Attorney conceded that he understood that some people listen to public safety scanners as a hobby and have done so for many years. Nonetheless, the City apparently has concerns that real-time broadcasting of police scanners “has created a serious threat to officer safety[.]”
Broadcastify is a communications platform that streams live audio for public safety, aircraft, rail, and marine-related communications. http://www.broadcastify.com/about/ (last visited December 31, 2016). It asserts that it has over 5,000 live audio streams for public safety, aircraft, rail, and marine communications (i.e. police and public safety scanners).
In response to the City’s letter, the CEO of Broadcastify asserts that it will vigorously defend against any legal action taken against it and believes that a challenge by the City would not survive even a lenient standard of First Amendment scrutiny. http://forums.radioreference.com/community-announcements-news/344362-broadcastify-receives-cease-desist-terre-haute-city-attorney.html (last visited December 31, 2016). The CEO further asserts that the police dispatch channel is the only one that is not encrypted.
It remains to be seen whether the City of Terre Haute will actually devote its scarce and precious public resources to this cause and challenge in a court of law. However, if it does, it is clear that any challenge will not be without a fight and will have to survive scrutiny under the First Amendment.
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