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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.

  • bill gates is your daddy
    Welcome to the New World Order
  • tenor77
    Peter: They will clean up all your talking in a matter such as this
    Brian: They will make you take a tinkle when you want to take a p*ss
    Stewie: And they’ll make you call fellatio a trouser-friendly kiss
    Peter, Brian, & Stewie: It’s the plain situation!
    There's no negiotiation!
    Peter: With the fellows at the freakin FCC!

    Brian: They’re as stuffy as the stuffiest of the special interest groups…
    Peter: Make a joke about your bowels and they order in the troops
    Stewie: Any baby with a brain could tell them everybody poops!
    Peter, Brian, & Stewie: Take a tip, take a lesson!
    You’ll never win by messin’
    Peter: With the fellas at the freakin’ FCC

    And if you find yourself with some you sexy thing
    You’re gonna have to do her with your ding-a-ling
    Cause you can’t say penis!

    So they sent this little warning they’re prepared to do the worst
    Brian: And they stuck it in your mailbox hoping you could be co-erced
    Stewie: I can think of quite another place they should have stuck it first!

    Peter, Brian, & Stewie: They may just be neurotic
    Or possible psychotic
    They’re the fellas at the freakin FCC!
  • one-shot
    The good old U.S.S.A!
  • surfer1337dude
    After reading this, According to all the facts, they have the right to test/inspect any of your equipment that produces rf. Well then use the 4th amendment to keep them out of your house, but bring all of your wireless junk to the door and tell them to inspect it outside :)
  • chaohsiangchen
    surfer1337dudeAfter reading this, According to all the facts, they have the right to test/inspect any of your equipment that produces rf. Well then use the 4th amendment to keep them out of your house, but bring all of your wireless junk to the door and tell them to inspect it outside
    They will send a SWAT team and hold you at gun point while doing their search in your house.

    Welcome to the good old USSA under the New World Order.
  • They can hardly measure it. Many people these days have Wireless N devices, that will give signal to almost the whole neighborhood.
    Wireless N is not illegal. Just place it in your attic so the rest of the people could have their black network (aka router to share files amongst the neighborhood).
  • mrfisthand
    They still can't legally enforce it without a probable cause that would revolve around radio transmissions, I doubt most people are running pirate radio stations off their baby monitors, and if they do try to unjustly enforce it, I imagine the victim could take it to the Supreme Court and have this ancient act removed. The real question is if stealing your neighbor's wireless connection could count as justifiable cause.
  • deltatux
    Another example of laws becoming quickly outdated. Hopefully they'll change that law so ppl in the States won't get their privacy revoked.
  • mrjhh
    If you read the FCC decision referenced in the article, it said that the fine was reduced to $225, based on the offender's inability to pay the full $7000. I'm guessing he didn't have enough money to raise a constitutional challenge, and the reference did not indicate any attempt to challenge the fine on constitutional grounds.
  • Platypus
    You know, I usually smirk when I see folks whining about an invasion of their privacy since anything you do in public isn't really a private matter. But being able to come into someone's home to search without a warrant? That is rather disturbing.

    The warrant system is there for a reason. I'm really surprised the $7,000 fine in the article above went through since we are clearly protected by the constitution. Either his lawyer was a puttz or the jury consisted of the same folks sitting in on these RIAA hearings.