Who owns the airwaves?

Many people who learn that I’ve worked in the newspaper business for going on 24 years tend to be surprised...

Many people who learn that I’ve worked in the newspaper business for going on 24 years tend to be surprised that I have great respect for privacy.

It’s not easy sometimes doing certain assignments in this business. Years ago I had to write a news story about an 11 year old boy who was killed during a minor hockey practice. I had to phone his parents as they were planning the funeral and, as the editor I worked for at the time put it, “find out how they feel.” Not an easy job. I understand and sympathize with people who value their privacy.

When I was working at the Macleod Gazette in 1999 a reader called me and asked if I would help her. She had recently began divorce proceedings with her soon-to-be ex-husband, and had been, only a few nights before, discussing the issue with her sister on the phone. All the phones in her house were cordless phones, by the way.

The morning after this conversation the lady was walking out to her vehicle when a neighbour who lived a few houses down hailed her and began asking her about her impending divorce. Who was to blame, was infidelity involved, who was getting the house and where were the kids going included some of the questions asked. My reader was understandably shocked. No one other than her sister and husband knew about the divorce proceedings.

The eavesdropping fellow had a reputation around town as a creep, and it was also known he had spent money to buy some high-end police scanning equipment…so high-end the equipment not only picked up police radios, it also picked up nearby cordless phones.

So I decided to do a story about this issue, which required some investigation. I contacted the RCMP and they didn’t know much about someone using scanners to eavesdrop on someone’s private conversation.

I’m a pretty fair detective, so I slowly but surely discovered that (as of 1999) Industry Canada is responsible for the airwaves we use everyday to communicate, whether it’s cordless phones, cell phones etc.

I spoke with a communications person at Industry Canada and the issue of eavesdropping on cordless phone conversations was explained. The citizens of Canada own the airwaves which surround us, and that’s why scanners are legal. It’s okay to buy a scanner and use it to listen to the airwaves and anything that’s being carried on the airwaves, especially public transmissions like police, fire and ambulance.

However, it’s been determined in previous court cases that, although the airwaves are fair game, whatever private content you happen to intercept on those airwaves is not fair game; for example, a lady discussing her divorce with a family member, totally unaware that someone in the neighbourhood is eavesdropping. Apparently, this issue came to the forefront in the 1990’s with the emergence of affordable cellular phones and an issue in British Columbia where an elected official was in an inappropriate relationship with a journalist, and yet another journalist was eavesdropping on their lovey-dovey conversations.

An eavesdropper like the Fort Macleod creep may intercept the private conversation, but he or she can never record or repeat anything they hear unless they have the permission of someone who was involved in the conversation. If they ignore that rule, they’re in violation of Criminal Code 184 (1)… “Every one who, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, willfully intercepts a private communication is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.”

Whether the Fort Macleod creep got a lecture from the police, I don’t know. But a quality community newspaper is pretty widely read, and I heard through the grapevine the story had an effect on him.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

 

Just Posted

Flora Northwest was taken to the Ermineskin residential school when she was six years old. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
Ermineskin residential school survivor: ‘It just brings me back to the cries at night’

Discovery in Kamloops of remains of 215 children a painful time for survivors

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Most Read