Bad: FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches

This is a discussion on Bad: FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; You are awoken by the sound on someone in your house. It is. 1) A BG stealing your TV. 2) A guy on drugs trying ...

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Thread: Bad: FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches

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    Member Array Akross's Avatar
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    Bad: FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches

    You are awoken by the sound on someone in your house. It is.

    1) A BG stealing your TV.
    2) A guy on drugs trying to find the rainbow of truth so he can join the two shards of the unicorn universe and bring about world nachos.
    3) The FCC checking to make sure you didn't modify your cordless phone.

    FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches Alarm Experts

    You may not know it, but if you have a wireless router, a cordless phone, remote car-door opener, baby monitor or cellphone in your house, the FCC claims the right to enter your home without a warrant at any time of the day or night in order to inspect it.

    That’s the upshot of the rules the agency has followed for years to monitor licensed television and radio stations, and to crack down on pirate radio broadcasters. And the commission maintains the same policy applies to any licensed or unlicensed radio-frequency device.

    “Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference,” says FCC spokesman David Fiske. That includes devices like Wi-Fi routers that use unlicensed spectrum, Fiske says.

    The FCC claims it derives its warrantless search power from the Communications Act of 1934, though the constitutionality of the claim has gone untested in the courts. That’s largely because the FCC had little to do with average citizens for most of the last 75 years, when home transmitters were largely reserved to ham-radio operators and CB-radio aficionados. But in 2009, nearly every household in the United States has multiple devices that use radio waves and fall under the FCC’s purview, making the commission’s claimed authority ripe for a court challenge.

    “It is a major stretch beyond case law to assert that authority with respect to a private home, which is at the heart of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure,” says Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Lee Tien. “When it is a private home and when you are talking about an over-powered Wi-Fi antenna — the idea they could just go in is honestly quite bizarre.”

    George Washington University professor Orin Kerr, a constitutional law expert, also questions the legalilty of the policy.

    “The Supreme Court has said that the government can’t make warrantless entries into homes for administrative inspections,” Kerr said via e-mail, refering to a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that housing inspectors needed warrants to force their way into private residences. The FCC’s online FAQ doesn’t explain how the agency gets around that ruling, Kerr adds.

    The rules came to attention this month when an FCC agent investigating a pirate radio station in Boulder, Colorado, left a copy of a 2005 FCC inspection policy on the door of a residence hosting the unlicensed 100-watt transmitter. “Whether you operate an amateur station or any other radio device, your authorization from the Commission comes with the obligation to allow inspection,” the statement says.

    The notice spooked those running “Boulder Free Radio,” who thought it was just tough talk intended to scare them into shutting down, according to one of the station’s leaders, who spoke to Wired.com on condition of anonymity. “This is an intimidation thing,” he said. “Most people aren’t that dedicated to the cause. I’m not going to let them into my house.”

    But refusing the FCC admittance can carry a harsh financial penalty. In a 2007 case, a Corpus Christi, Texas, man got a visit from the FCC’s direction-finders after rebroadcasting an AM radio station through a CB radio in his home. An FCC agent tracked the signal to his house and asked to see the equipment; Donald Winton refused to let him in, but did turn off the radio. Winton was later fined $7,000 for refusing entry to the officer. The fine was reduced to $225 after he proved he had little income.

    Administrative search powers are not rare, at least as directed against businesses — fire-safety, food and workplace-safety regulators generally don’t need warrants to enter a business. And despite the broad power, the FCC agents aren’t cops, says Fiske. “The only right they have is to inspect the equipment,” Fiske says. “If they want to seize, they have to work with the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

    But if inspectors should notice evidence of unrelated criminal behavior — say, a marijuana plant or stolen property — a Supreme Court decision suggests the search can be used against the resident. In the 1987 case New York v. Burger, two police officers performed a warrantless, administrative search of one Joseph Burger’s automobile junkyard. When he couldn’t produce the proper paperwork, the officers searched the grounds and found stolen vehicles, which they used to prosecute him. The Supreme Court held the search to be legal.

    In the meantime, pirate radio stations are adapting to the FCC’s warrantless search power by dividing up a station’s operations. For instance, Boulder Free Radio consists of an online radio station operated by DJs from a remote studio. Miles away, a small computer streams the online station and feeds it to the transmitter. Once the FCC comes and leaves a notice on the door, the transmitter is moved to another location before the agent returns.

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    Distinguished Member Array TerriLi's Avatar
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    Very foolish in several areas. This will end poorly for those foolish enough to try it.
    I know not what this "overkill" means.

    Honing the knives, Cleaning the longguns, Stocking up ammo.

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    VIP Member Array mcp1810's Avatar
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    “Whether you operate an amateur station or any other radio device, your authorization from the Commission comes with the obligation to allow inspection,” the statement says.
    I am a little confused. With that Boulder Free Radio, if it is an unlicensed pirate radio station they by definition are not authorized by the Commission. So if that is the case they are under no obligation to allow inspection, right?
    Infowars- Proving David Hannum right on a daily basis

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    “Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference,” says FCC spokesman David Fiske. That includes devices like Wi-Fi routers that use unlicensed spectrum, Fiske says.
    No reason they couldn't run that test from the street. No need to enter the home at all.

    Randy

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    Distinguished Member Array Paymeister's Avatar
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    Lotsa badge-heavy animal control officers our there; looks like the FCC has some of the same sort as well.
    Recently updated website: http://www.damagedphotorepair.com

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    " Donald Winton refused to let him in, but did turn off the radio. Winton was later fined $7,000 for refusing entry to the officer. The fine was reduced to $225 after he proved he had little income."

    Too little information here. Agencies issue administrative fines for all manner of reason, but their actions are open to court review. Is there a record of this ever going to an actual court with the argument on constitutionality put forward?

    While it sounds like there might be real concerns here, it also doesn't sound like we are getting a straight untwisted story. This story has a flavor to it of hyping what occurred in a manner designed to frighten or generate anger. After all, the guy was doing something illegal by operating that radio and so a warrant could have been obtained. He came out ahead of the game with a 250 administrative fine rather than something in the form of a criminal charge, which was deserved.

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    Ex Member Array PNUT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hopyard View Post
    " This story has a flavor to it of hyping what occurred in a manner designed to frighten or generate anger. .


    Excellent observation . There is a lot of that going around these days. A whole lot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PNUT View Post
    Excellent observation . There is a lot of that going around these days. A whole lot.
    +1 I agree.

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    Senior Member Array ErikGr7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akross View Post
    You are awoken by the sound on someone in your house. It is.

    1) A BG stealing your TV.
    2) A guy on drugs trying to find the rainbow of truth so he can join the two shards of the unicorn universe and bring about world nachos.
    3) The FCC checking to make sure you didn't modify your cordless phone.
    You should be armed in all three cases

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    Note to FCC inspector: Good luck!

    Note to self: Load extra mags.
    The last Blood Moon Tetrad for this millennium starts in April 2014 and ends in September 2015...according to NASA.

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    From my read of the article, the scenario of being awakened by a sound in your house is very far-fetched.

    As noted in the anecdote in the article, when the FCC inspector could not gain entry, he didn't forcibly enter the residence, he left a note.

    So perhaps the choices section should have been:

    You arrive home to find a note on your door. Should you:

    1) Fire a warning shot
    2) Endlessly debate whether 9mm or .45 is the better note-stopper
    3) 2 to the staples one to the fold



    Matt
    Battle Plan (n) - a list of things that aren't going to happen if you are attacked.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TerriLi View Post
    Very foolish in several areas. This will end poorly for those foolish enough to try it.
    That is exactly what I was thinking... Trying to check my wireless router in the middle of the night will not end on well for the person trying it.
    02PSD4ME

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    Distinguished Member Array Reborn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 02PSD4ME View Post
    That is exactly what I was thinking... Trying to check my wireless router in the middle of the night will not end on well for the person trying it.
    + 1....... I'll bet the Moron that made this rule doesn't make house calls....
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    One thing to keep in mind is "power." The FCC authorities will never know and won't care the least bit about ultra low power devices like routers, telephones, CB radios, cell phones etc., or alarm devices.

    I can almost guarantee that the guy in this original story who was rebroadcasting stuff was using a jacked up system with illegal output.

    There are devices on the market that greatly increase the broadcast signal of cell phones and of CB radios. Some are legit and some are not, and some folks add yet additional amplification to the outgoing signal to be cool.

    Those are the folks who will come to Uncle's attention, and they should. They are committing a crime. It was very nice of the FCC inspector to leave a nice note and of the Agency to reduce the guy's fine. The whole thing could have gone quite more harshly, starting with a search warrant for the illegal transmitter, an arrest, a real trial, a real conviction, etc.

    If you don't want Uncle to visit, don't break the law. It really is that simple.
    Last edited by Hopyard; May 22nd, 2009 at 08:17 PM. Reason: spelling correction

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    The FCC claims it derives its warrantless search power from the Communications Act of 1934
    My 12 rounds of .40 Federal HST trumps their warrantless search!

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