Privacy: An Abbreviated Outline of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping [Updated May 5, 2006] [open pdf - 33KB]
"It is a federal crime to intentionally wiretap or electronically eavesdrop on the conversation of another without a court order or the consent of one of the parties to the conversation. Moreover, in eleven states, it is a state crime for anyone other than the police to intentionally wiretap and/or electronically eavesdrop on the conversation of another without the consent of all of the parties to the conversation. The federal crimes are punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and expose offenders to civil liability for damages, attorneys' fees, and possibly punitive damages. State crimes carry similar consequences. Even in states where one party consent interceptions are legal, they may well be contrary to the professional obligations of members of the bar. The proscriptions often include a ban on using or disclosing the fruits of an illegal interception. Statutory exceptions to these general prohibitions permit judicially supervised wiretapping or electronic eavesdropping conducted for law enforcement or foreign intelligence gathering purposes. Similar regimes - proscriptions with exceptions for government access under limited circumstances - exist for telephone records, e-mail and other forms of electronic communications."
CRS Report for Congress, 98-327