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Criminal Resource Manual 1066 Interception Of Radio Communications -- 47 U.S.C. § 605


Interception of Radio Communications—47 U.S.C. §  605

Section 605(a) of Title 47 prohibits persons who transmit or receive wire or radio communications from divulging such communications except to authorized persons. According to the legislative history, the provision "is designed to regulate the conduct of communications personnel." S.Rep. No. 1098, 90th Cong., 2d Sess. 108 (1968).
The nature of radio communications is such that there is the potential for a multitude of petty 47 U.S.C. § 605 violations which do not warrant the initiation of federal prosecutions. Consequently, the proper use of federal law enforcement resources usually requires that investigation and prosecution of 47 U.S.C. § 605 violations be reserved for those cases in which there is a continuing, repeated, and flagrant violation of the law despite the application of lesser measures. It should be noted that the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 carved out an exception for the interception of satellite cable programming by an individual for private viewing. Prior to the act, such an interception and use was, arguably, a violation of the law.
The word "person" in 47 U.S.C. § 605 does not include a law enforcement officer acting in the usual course of his or her duties. See United States v. Hall, 488 F.2d 193 (9th Cir. 1973); S.Rep. No. 1097, 90th Cong., 2d Sess. 108 (1968).
A person who "willfully" violates the criminal prohibitions contained in this section is subject to a fine of not more than $2,000 and imprisonment for not more than six months. 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(1). If a person willfully violates this provision for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain, the penalty is a fine of not more than $50,000 and imprisonment for not more than two years, and a $100,000 fine and imprisonment for not more than five years for any subsequent conviction. Id. §  605(e)(2).
The statute also prohibits the importation, manufacture, sale, or distribution of equipment with the intent to use it in any activity prohibited by § 605(a), and provides the same criminal penalties of not more than $500,000 and imprisonment of not more than five years for each violation. Id. § 605(e)(4).

[cited in USAM 9-60.200]

Updated February 19, 2015