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Personal information is being broadcast over police scanners for anyone to hear

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(KUTV) -- Treva Sisco listens to police scanners using a free app she downloaded on her phone.

"For fun, to hear what's going on in the area," she said.

But a recent transition left her troubled. A police officer called out someone’s Social Security number. Treva says the breach of personal privacy is not a onetime thing.

"I've had the app for about 10 days and it I have heard about a dozen Social Security numbers,” she said.

Treva's concerned. Her family has dealt with identity theft in the past and worries someone nefarious could be listening to these social security numbers being given out by the people who are supposed to protect us from crimes.

“Anybody could hear it," she said.

Police scanners apps are popular. One app, called “5-0 police scanner,” touts more than 250 million downloads since 2009. Another, called scanner radio, reports 10-50 million downloads. There are several other scanner apps available.

Utah Highway Patrol Major Jess Anderson agreed to speak to Get Gephardt even though it may or may not have been a UHP trooper that Treva heard.

We are very careful with the information that goes over the radio," he said. “It's not our intent to broadcast social security numbers out, but on occasion, that does happen. It simply is used as a technique to verify who somebody is, identification.

As you can imagine, the people cops deal with are not always completely honest, and getting a positive ID is important in police work.

Anderson agrees it would be more secure to call in someone’s social security number over the phone, rather than broadcasting it over the radio but he believes doing so would put officers in danger.

“Radio traffic is heard by other officers, and if they can hear what you're doing and the situation that's going on, then they will come [if something goes wrong]," Anderson said.

Officer safety is paramount, but protecting people's privacy is also important. That is a fact Anderson says troopers get. He thinks that technology, like laptops in every patrol car, and possibly even encoded scanner traffic, may provide a solution in the not too distant future.

Treva says she hopes so.

"There's got to be a way that they could still get the information that they need, so they know who they're dealing with, but still protect people's identification," she said.

The Communications Act of 1934 forbids anyone from using scanner traffic for their own benefit. So taking a social security number from a scanner and using it to, say, open up a credit card, is obviously illegal.

But, being against the law doesn’t stop ID thieves from their chosen criminal profession.


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