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FCC Reserves the Right To Search Your Home, Any Time 589

Posted by timothy
from the who-are-you-to-disagree dept.
mikesd81 writes "Wired.com reports that 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. FCC spokesman David Fiske says 'Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference.' 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. '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.'"
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FCC Reserves the Right To Search Your Home, Any Time

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  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:19AM (#28051825) Homepage Journal

    They've had this power for decades. This is nothing new. Fire up a transmitter and start broadcasting overtop an FM radio station, and just see how fast the FCC sends out their goons.

  • For kicks (Score:4, Informative)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:28AM (#28051893)

    I'll just leave this here.
    http://www.fcc.gov/Reports/tcom1996.txt [fcc.gov]

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:33AM (#28051925) Homepage Journal

    What the FCC is saying is completely different than someone operating an illegal radio station (such as the one mentioned in the article). The FCC is claiming that if you have a keyless entry device for your car, they can enter your house without a warrant.

    Sorry, no way Jose. If you're trying to "stick it to the man" by having an illegal radio station, are deliberately jamming a radio signal, or anything else of similar nature, then yes, the FCC does have the authority to get on your case.

    But to claim that just having an electronic device to remotely open my car that that somehow gives them the authority to search my place, not a chance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:37AM (#28051969)

    Note that AT NO TIME, does the FCC guy interviewed actually say they can search your home without a warrant.

    He says the FCC has total authority to inspect RF devices. Which they do, the article even cites the specific law that gives the FCC that authority. They can ask to see your router at home but they still don't have the authority to just bust into your house without a warrant.

  • "Reserve the right" (Score:5, Informative)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:49AM (#28052107) Journal

    In the US, our government has no rights. It only has powers delegated to it by We the People. It has no rights, not prerogative to reserve them.

    There are some special constructs like "sovereign immunity" but those are not right, they are juris prudence constructs. The FCC can't just say "we're reserving the right to rape your children". Congress has to vote to give them that power. And with congress voting, due process is upheld.

  • Nope. Every device that emits a radio signal is licensed. Your wireless router has an FCC ID, does it not? Then it is a licensed piece of equipment.

  • by Spasemunki (63473) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:07AM (#28052303) Homepage

    No, because the FCC is always going to 1) identify themselves, 2) knock on the door and ask to see specific equipment or a specific transmission source, and 3) walk away and issue you a fine by mail if you say no. These Castle scenarios where 'FCC goons' bust into your house, RF detectors blazing, is pure fantasy. Furthermore, the Castle doctrine applies to a situation where you could reasonably believe you are in danger of physical harm in your own home. When is the FCC ever going to make you think you are at risk of physical harm? A guy with a clipboard knocking on your door and asking to see your HAM transmitter or CB radio is not justification for homicide.

  • by stevew (4845) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:11AM (#28052379) Journal

    I have a little bit of real-life experience dealing with an FCC engineer while he was hunting a suspected illegal transmitter. I was helping him locate it.

    Basic story - someone had set up a cross-band repeater with it's output on 2m running about 100W. The main purpose of this thing was to act as a remote phone. The output was right in the middle of the 2m Satellite downlink band. The system would turn on intermittently, and he would talk to his girlfriend about Olive oil parties and such.

    We found his input frequency and figured out how he turned the thing on and off.

    FCC came down to track it - they asked us to turn it on for 30 seconds at a time. They took three readings to find the guy! The last reading was "which antenna!" They are VERY good at what they do. Turns out the guy DID have a license, and he was sited for no ID (which was pretty minimal..) He was later confronted about his activities personally and embarrassed into ceasing same. The fact that he was screwing up satellite operations AND a near by repeater he didn't know existed helped in that cause.

    Anyway - to make this relevant. The FCC never went into his house. However, they DID confront him at his place of work to site him. (not sure how this occurred..)

    As a Ham - they DO have the right to demand to enter my premises to inspect the radio gear. If I deny them access - they can take away the license. So it's a balancing act. If I want to keep the license I let them in. They won't be bringing cops to the door.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:19AM (#28052519)

    Sorry son, but you're the only assholes on this continent who have even considered Sharia Law [bbc.co.uk].

    You'll go the way of Western Europe soon and be inundated with Asians and Middle Easterners, who in short order will out-vote you and dictate to you, the Anglos and Native Americans what you will and will not do. It's happening in the Netherlands and France as we speak.

  • Not in US Either (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:29AM (#28052657)

    See Bodine v. Enterprise High School [overlawyered.com]. Although an extreme case, this thief did successfully get ~1M dollars in 1984-present-value dollars out of the school for injuries sustained while stealing a floodlight from the school's roof. This case was a poster child for tort reform movements in the 80s and 90s, but I'm not sure the legal situation is much different these days.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:30AM (#28052703)

    Oh no, the jackbooted thugs are coming for you!

    We had a 100W Motorola base station malfunction (it was keyed up 100%) and take out a police department frequency 50+ miles away.

    One FCC guy came out in a pickup truck with an RF scanner. We located and fixed the problem, apologized, shook hands and he left. End of story.

    Relax people...

  • total bs (Score:2, Informative)

    by freddieb (537771) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:43AM (#28052919)
    This is incorrect. The FCC will ask you to allow them to inspect the RF device. You don't have to allow the inspection. There may be additional consequences as a result of your refusal however, most people who are not doing anything wrong will willingly allow the FCC agents to find a source of radio frequency interference.
  • ... and you would recognise a valid vs. counterfeit warrant how, exactly?

    Verify the number on the warrant, then call it. I've heard that cops will wait for you to do this if it's not one of those "get down on the floor" type of warrants.

  • by vertinox (846076) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:46AM (#28052971)

    ...because if someone not in a uniform bursts into my home unannounced they're going to be leaving with a few more bullet holes in their body than they walked in with.

    Just hope they aren't under cover plainclothes officers doing a "no knock".

    *coughs* [wikipedia.org]

  • by sukotto (122876) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:48AM (#28053003)

    No. I'm pretty sure booby trapping your home in a way that injures a government agent would put you in a world of shit.

  • by bored_lurker (788136) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:08AM (#28053283)
    So remember, if you want to break into someone's house do it in the UK and stay out of Texas. The law here, known as the Castle Law, is a bit different [dallasnews.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:24AM (#28053499)

    If they have a valid warrant they dont have to ask for permission. So never, ever tell them they can come in. Always tell them they do not have your permission, even if you think they have a valid warrant. Do not surrender your rights.

  • Macho Talk (Score:2, Informative)

    by weav (158099) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:25AM (#28053519)

    Please see the thread on Usenet group ba.broadcast.

    A former FCC field office chief has stated that while someone may try to convince a resident to let him in, he can't legally use force to gain entry without a U.S. Marshal and a warrant.

  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:29AM (#28053577)
    That's exactly right. Try calling your state government and asking them which laws you have the follow. In some instances you'd have pay for copyrighted material to get what the law is.

    I've stated this before, and people usually dismiss it saying, "Well, most of the law is specialized, I know all the law that actually applies to me", yet most people don't have a clue about copyright and what fair use is. Most people think that just about any non-commercial use is fair use.

    The average citizen has about as much understanding of the law as they do about electricity. "I just flip the switch, and the light comes on. If something goes wrong, I just call someone."
  • by Khomar (529552) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:46AM (#28053787) Journal

    Are you kidding me? Have you been paying attention at all? Obama is continuing all of the bad policies of George W. Bush and adding a few new ones for good measure.

    Don't believe me? Check out this little tidbit:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21obama.html?_r=2&emc=eta1 [nytimes.com]

    Obama is consider locking up "potential" terrorists without trial. Remember that recently potential terrorists have been broadened to include anyone who has voted third party, been pro-life or pro-guns, or disagrees with government policies.

    For those of you who still have rose-colored glasses regarding President Obama, you need to start paying attention. As good as he sounds in his speeches, he is rapidly moving our nation toward fascism.

  • by Comboman (895500) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:49AM (#28053839)

    the FCC has not done anything to fight interference for years. Hell most Pirate FM stations don't get taken down until they become big and obvious. They dont raid homes over Wifi violations.

    They probably wont do anything unless they receive a complaint, but they certainly do investigate interference. Check out this article from GPS World [gpsworld.com]. Several malfunctioning amplified TV antennas were jamming GPS signals in a California harbor. The FCC investigated and rectified the problem. No mention of whether they entered anyone's property against their will (the interference was accidental so I'm sure the individuals cooperated), but I can understand why they have this power.

  • ridiculous (Score:3, Informative)

    by lophophore (4087) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:52AM (#28053907) Homepage

    This is patently ridiculous, and it is a troll.

    To my knowledge, the FCC has never gone door kicking without other federal law enforcement agencies present, and there was always a warrant, and it was always for egregious violations.

    The FCC might come around your home or business, and politely ask to see some of your gear if there is a reported interference or regulatory compliance issue. They do have the right to do this, and it is certainly reasonable. If you do not cooperate and let them finish their interference or compliance investigation, they may take legal action against you, and in severe cases, could result in the SWAT team at your door. But that would not be without warning and due process, including registered letters, attempted service of legal notices, etc.

    I've read about FCC enforcement actions, and they definitely prefer the carrot to the stick...

  • by evanbd (210358) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:55AM (#28053949)

    If they have a valid warrant they dont have to ask for permission. So never, ever tell them they can come in. Always tell them they do not have your permission, even if you think they have a valid warrant. Do not surrender your rights.

    True, but you don't really want to be seen as trying to prevent them from executing a valid warrant. You need to make it clear that you don't consent, but that beyond that you aren't preventing them from coming in. The phrasing I've seen suggested is "I do not consent to a search of my residence." (Or vehicle, person, bag, etc.) Keep repeating that, regardless of how they phrase the question. Just saying "No." is a bad idea -- they're likely to keep asking, and you don't want to reply "no" when they phrase it as "Do you mind if we come in?" By the tenth time they ask you might be frustrated enough not to be paying full attention to the phrasing. Add "Am I under arrest?" and "Am I free to go?" and you have almost everything you might need to say to an officer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:57AM (#28053979)

    The bigger UK pirate stations have long operated via similar means. The studio runs a "link" to the transmitter/antenna, usually via microwave using old satellite dishes.

    Our laws on this are considerably worse than the US, until recently even iTrip-type devices that transmit 10 metres at most were deemed illegal and banned from sale! They eventually caved in on those, but getting any sort of license is still considerably harder and more expensive than in the US (there's no equivalent of the LPFM license.) Consequently many "community" stations are pirate, even though they would prefer to go legal.

  • There is a self-shot video on youtube that shows some kind of land surveyor trespassing on some guy's land. He had asked her on a previous date to stay off his property unless she had a warrant. A few weeks later she comes back (sans warrant) and attempts to get on his property again. He refuses and she starts spewing pseudo-law random crap which she attempts to use to get her on his property with his consent. He refuses still and eventually a cop shows up. He, the land owners, tells the cop that he does not want her on his property. The cop ignores him and lets the woman trespass.

    Warrant or not, cops are going to infringe on the law regardless. Cops really do think they know what they are doing.

    I'm not sure of the outcome of this episode but I'm sure if evidence was gathered by this woman trespassing on his land without a warrant it'd be inadmissible in court. Providing, of course, kangaroos aren't in the general vicinity of said court.

    The point is, just spouting, "Get the F off my lawn" wont necessarily cause 'officials' to comply. I mean, Citizen, who the fuck are you? (tongue in cheek)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:28AM (#28054485)

    Not true. There are unlicensed portions of radio spectrum. 2.4Ghz is one of those bands. The manufacturer is required to make the device compliant with the regulations so that buyers of the equipment can use it that way.
    The device has a sticker on it that certifies the compliance with FCC rules for unlicensed use.
    If you change the equipment so it does not meet the specification, you may need a license (like amateur radio operators using higher power in the 2.4 band).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:32AM (#28054543)

    No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it. --Sixteenth American Jurisprudence Second Edition, Section 177

    however if you're wrong, or ruled to be wrong, then you're finished

  • by LifesABeach (234436) on Friday May 22, 2009 @12:55PM (#28055765)

    "If an ATF officer enters your home without a valid Search Warrant, aim between the eyes, or between the legs". Naturally, Mr. Liddy was not loved by many ATF Career Staffers after that...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @03:56PM (#28058443)

    There are circumstances where the law allows access by lawful agents of the government, or even the general public, for a variety of purposes DESPITE what the land owner might like. The set of circumstances is pretty small, but this might have been one of them, depending upon who the employer or contractor of that surveyor was and what they were charged with doing.

    In most cases, you can't normally prevent the local municipality from sending a surveyor out to determine whether the boundaries of your land are correctly surveyed. If the most efficient route to those survey points is across your land -- too bad. The point being: no, they don't need a warrant at all. Here's the relevant law for California [californiasurveyors.org]. I'm no lawyer, but the language there is pretty plain, and I don't think it is unique to that state or to the United States. Surveyors (when doing official work) are an exception to trespass laws. And if the surveyor showed up the day before without notice, but notified the landowner they'd be there the next day -- that's really it. They were crossing the land lawfully (unless doing something inappropriate like causing damage) and the landowner can complain all they like. I believe most surveyors are obliged to attempt to gain the consent of the landowner (because that's just courtesy, and there are good safety reasons for doing so), but they can't be obstructed.

    Rules vary greatly from country to country, but picking another example, in Canada a landowner can not prevent the general public from crossing their land in order to portage from one navigable lake/waterway to another. It's a fairly unusual example, but there are more obvious ones where landowner's rights are limited. For example, do you think you could prevent firemen from putting out a fire on your property, even if you wanted a building on it to burn down?

    As for the FCC's rationale -- it's pretty ridiculous. Rules are rather different when we're talking about entering someone's home versus merely crossing their land.

    But any way you slice it, landowner's rights are not absolute.

  • But there is law that specifies when you must obey the commands of a police officer, and those laws are constitutional. For example, there exist constitutionally valid laws that prohibit you from using lethal force to resist an arrest by a police officer who's identified himself to you. Those laws remain applicable even if the police are arresting you for violating an unconstitutional law.

    The principle stated earlier in this thread very much applies here: it's the courts decide whether a law is constitutional, not you, period.

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