In practice, they are simply available online and mostly free. Alternatively, anyone may purchase an ADS-B receiver to monitor the surrounding air traffic and air-band radio to listen to ATC.

I am wondering if there are regulations, similar to restriction of the use of GPS tracker and phone call recording? Or is it simply assumed that, for public safety, anyone conducting a flight is automatically presumed to volunteer the information of flight path and air conversation to the public?

  • $\begingroup$ I would assume, and to me it makes sense. It's not like that in every jurisdiction though, it's illegal in both UK and Germany to listen to ATC if you're not in an aircraft or in an ATC facility. It's stupid, but still illegal. Mode S receivers appear to be legal there too though, so at least it's only an old law that's surviving. $\endgroup$ – falstro Apr 16 '16 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ In US, I think it is legal to listen but requires a license to transmit. $\endgroup$ – skyoasis Apr 16 '16 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ "Public" isn't very well defined. You should ask for rights to listen, to disclose, to record and to publish. In a country you may have some but not all of them, they may be subject to various authorizations too. An obvious difference between a phone call and an ATC exchange is that one is a private communication with specific persons (and is protected by privacy laws), the other is not, but isn't fully public either, it is not intended to anyone who can listen to it. Add to this possible paranoid or genuine security aspects. $\endgroup$ – mins Apr 16 '16 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ What I've always thought odd about UK and Germany is that you can't listen to ATC but apparently ADS-B is fine. That never made sense to me $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 16 '16 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @mins, the scope of public is yet to be discussed. I mean the participants of air traffic control conversation have no right to claim its privacy and property, and the general public has the right to access them. $\endgroup$ – skyoasis Apr 17 '16 at 2:40

The FAA is only authorized by congress to regulate FLIGHT, not radio communications.

Radio communications are regulated by the FCC.

Both of these agencies have no power to make laws. They can make only "regulations". In the United States, according to the Constitution, laws can only be made by Congress or the legislatures of the several states.

The position of the FCC is that it is legal for any person to monitor and record any radio transmission that they wish. The only exception to this is listening to private telephone conversations or encrypted military transmissions. The Federal law that prohibits this, explicitly exempts maritime and aeronautical transmissions. This is the language:

18 USC § 2511 (2)(g.ii.IV) It shall not be unlawful under this chapter or chapter 121 of this title for any person to intercept any radio communication which is transmitted by any marine or aeronautical communications system;

Therefore, by United States federal law it is explicitly allowed and permitted for anyone to monitor and record maritime or aeronautical communications.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1, very good answer for the listening activity. Anything for recording, disclosing, publishing? I assume disclosing is subject to conditions (e.g. 15 min delay). If CVR were transmitted live via satellite, could the cockpit conversation be broadcast on the Internet live? $\endgroup$ – mins Apr 16 '16 at 23:36

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