Telephone tapping means accessing the content of a telephone call and making it available to someone other than the caller or intended recipient. For example, a private investigator using a bugging device to listen in to someone's phone calls.
It is illegal for an individual to tap any person’s telephone calls. However, there are some instances where the intercepting and monitoring of your communications is allowed.
This page tells you who is allowed to tap your telephone and what you can do if you think you are a victim of illegal tapping.
How can you tell if your phone is tapped?
You will not usually be able to tell if your phone is being tapped. Clicking or tapping noises on the line may indicate your phone is being tapped by an amateur. Professionals are more careful than that!
Who can tap your telephone?
It is illegal for an individual to tap any person’s telephone calls.
Police, security and intelligence services, HM Revenue and Customs
The police, customs officers or security intelligence services such as MI5, are allowed to tap telephones for reasons relating to national security, serious crime or the economic well-being of the UK. They must gain permission to do this from the Home Secretary who will give them a warrant.
Recording telephone calls
There is nothing to stop someone recording a telephone call they are part of, even if the other person doesn’t know. However, it may be against the law to give the recording or information contained in the telephone call to someone else. It is likely to be considered a breach of confidence if it was clear the content of the call was confidential and it was not in the interests of the public to disclose it.
Passing the contents of the call to someone else would have to be done in compliance with the Data Protection Act.
Businesses recording telephone conversations
Sometimes calls you make to businesses, such as a bank or insurance company, may be monitored by that business. Businesses often do this as a way of monitoring the performance of their customer service staff. They can’t monitor your phone call without letting you know. They should tell you at the beginning of the call that it is being monitored. Or they may tell you in writing within any terms and conditions you may have signed.
The written version of these calls, know as transcripts, can be used as evidence in court. For example, if you acknowledged a debt on the telephone to your bank and then later denied the debt.
If you think your phone has been illegally tapped
If you think your phone has been illegally tapped you could contact your local police station or dial 101, the non-emergency police number.
If you feel you have enough evidence to take action, you could also see a solicitor. You may be able to take the person to court for breaching your rights under the Human Rights Act or the Data Protection Act.
Complaints about the use of interception warrants
If you have a complaint about the use of interception warrants you should contact the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. They may investigate and can award compensation if an interception warrant has been wrongly issued by the Home Secretary.
Other useful information
In England and Wales, Liberty offers further information about interception of communications.
In England and Wales, Liberty may be able to provide specialist advice on interception of communications.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal
Tel: 020 7035 3711