Skip to main content

FCC Can Enter Your Home Without Warrant

Apparently, consumers who own a wireless router, cell phone, baby monitor, or other wireless devices can't refuse the FCC if the commission decides to come into the home for an inspection.

In fact, the commission doesn't even need a court order to enter the home and check the equipment, enabling the FCC the ability to come and visit during any time of day or night. Refusing the FCC access to the equipment could lead to a harsh financial penalty.

The FCC's policy was reintroduced to the public earlier this month when the commission went to investigate a private radio station in Boulder, Colorado. Unable to gain access to the equipment, located in a residential home, the FCC investigator left a copy of the 2005 FCC inspection policy taped to the door. “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 read.  Another radio broadcaster refused to allow the FCC access to his radio equipment back in 2007, and was fined a whopping $7,000 by the FCC.

So what gives? Why do these people think they have the right to barge in unannounced? According to Wired, the FCC has enforced this policy for many years, mostly to track down and dismember pirate radio broadcasters. Unfortunately, the FCC reserves the same invasive maneuvers regarding any licensed or unlicensed radio-frequency device, leaving legitimate businesses and consumer wide open for an unwanted, unwelcomed visit.

According to the FCC, the source of its warrantless search power stems from the Communications Act of 1934, and its actions have gone unattested in court for the last 75 years, mainly because technology was limited to ham-radios and CB-radios on the consumer front. However, it's a different world now, the Digital Age, and most businesses and consumers own at least one cell phone, wireless router, or a wireless land line. Now the FCC has a much broader frontier than previous decades, and that has many protesters in an uproar.

“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, quoted a Supreme Court ruling in 1967, saying that the government cannot make warrantless entries into homes for administrative inspections; the 1967 ruling in fact specified that housing inspectors needed warrants to force their way into private residential homes. Kerr also noted that the FCC conveniently doesn't explain how it works around that ruling, or how it works around the Fourth Amendment in its official FAQ online.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said that the FCC reserves the right to inspect anything using RF energy, to make sure that the device(s) isn't causing interference. “The only right they have is to inspect the equipment,” he said, referring to the FCC inspectors. “If they want to seize, they have to work with the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

Consumers growing marijuana plants on the window sill or storing other illegal drugs within the homes are subject to prosecution, as anything the FCC discovers while inspecting the equipment--although completely unrelated to the current task--can be used against the consumer in court. Ultimately, this means that, should the FCC demand to check your wireless router due to suspicious transmissions, it's best to find a good hiding place for the bong.