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

mikesd81 writes " 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:18AM (#28051815)

    ...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.

  • by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:18AM (#28051817) Homepage Journal
    And the resulting court case. I'm pretty sure the 4th amendment would triumph over the FCC's bullshit rule they presumably wrote themselves.
  • by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:21AM (#28051839) Homepage Journal
    In a time where every single home emits some sort of RF, the FCC's claim is outdated. Holding the 1934 law as constitutional would give the FCC the authority to inspect pretty much any house in the country, completely defeating the point of the 4th amendment. There is no way in hell they would win in court.
  • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:27AM (#28051883)
    Not in the UK. []

    "The person in charge of a property has a legal duty to protect all its users from foreseeable harm, even if they are on the property illegally. If an intruder is hurt by a security measure - such as glass or barbed wire - that the householder knew to be dangerous then they could be sued for damages under the Occupier's Liability Act 1984."
  • by Raver32 ( 978821 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:27AM (#28051885)
    The way Britain and the US are going, the only true bastion of freedom and human rights will be Canada soon . . . Time to close the borders? ;)
  • bizzare indeed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:30AM (#28051901) Journal

    How would they get in? Do they have badges of some kind? Is there an FCC trained police force to execute these entries?

    To really revisit the Communications Act of 1934 to will take someone getting hurt or killed during one of these entries.

    Or due to the Supreme Court ruling in '67, FCC spokesman David Fiske will have to be educated on Federal Law the hard way.

  • by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:34AM (#28051941) Homepage Journal

    That's a much more complex argument where things such as "national security" and the "drug war" would have to be taken into account (not that I agree with it, and i see where you're going). A private home, on the other hand, is a man's castle, and warrentless searches of a person's home are pretty clearly forbidden by the 4th amendment.

    I have zero faith in politicians and government agencies to pass and enforce legislation that is constitutional, but the court system has for the most part kept them in check. Agree or not with which way they rule, the supreme court tends to make decent decisions in that regard.

  • by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:41AM (#28052013)

    At a glance, the relevant laws regarding inspection seem to apply only to licensees and licensed (and presumably non-illegal) equipment. Thing is, routers etc. are unlicensed - ergo there is no legal basis for an inspection thereof (unless the equipment is operating in an illegal manner). Even if a law is being violated, a warrant is required.

    Oh, BTW: anyone here notice that ammo sales are WAY up? probably not a good time to do an unannounced inspection of a lawfully unlicensed radio transmitter.

  • by Larryish ( 1215510 ) <larryish@gmail . c om> on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:42AM (#28052025)

    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.

    Fscking awesome. Absolutely fscking awesome.

  • by Raver32 ( 978821 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:47AM (#28052087)
    You say this like its a bad thing . . . My phones aren't tapped regardless of the law My government doesn't torture prisoners My laptop or PDA can't be seized upon entering Canada without just cause The police state that the US became under Bush is an embarrassment to all your founding fathers stood for. Thankfully you seem to have a new President that has intelligence and morals, and can go a long way towards fixing your broken system.
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:54AM (#28052145) Homepage

    Does anyone still say this?

  • Re:And under... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:55AM (#28052169) Homepage

    Why is everyone equating equating the right to inspect with no-knock raids? The FCC isn't going to kick in your door while you're trying to flush your transmitter. They're going to knock, ask to see the transmitter, and then go back to their office and issue you a fine by mail if you say no. The FCC has no interest in putting their agent's lives at risk in order to get someone to switch off their CB. All of this ranting about government goons and guns is just melodramatic bullshit. If the government wants to infringe on your rights, they'll do it through the legal system, not by kicking in doors. It's much more effective and much lower risk.

    Whether or not this is infringement on your 4th Amendment rights actually depends greatly on how the law is applied. If the FCC is asserting the right to enter any house because there is a phone or a wireless device inside, it's obviously infringement. The FCC has lawyers, and knows this, so there's little chance they would adopt such a tactic. All of the cases mentioned in the article related to fairly powerful transmitters that were being used in a way such that the violation of FCC regs could be detected by someone miles from the source. That means that 1) by the time the FCC directionalizes the signal and shows up at your door, they already have probably cause and could get a warrant if they needed it, and 2) the FCC could reasonably assert in court that the device is not something that most people have in their house, and is a sophisticated enough device that the fairly uncontroversial right of administrative inspection to have a look at that particular piece of equipment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:00AM (#28052213)

    ... and you would recognise a valid vs. counterfeit warrant how, exactly?

    This is the right attitude to have though. NEVER talk to cops, NEVER permit them into your home without a warrant. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:04AM (#28052251)

    The original intent of the FCC legislation was to protect the reception of TV/radio broadcasts and to prevent the safe functioning of electrical equipment. This was achieved by approving equipment that met limits in the amount of RF energy they emitted. This was extended to home computers, which seem to be built like tanks with layers and layers of metal shielding.

    Tricky thing is, most simple equipment like hairdryers and vacuum cleaners probably give off more RF than a mobile phone. Even a multisync CRT monitor could jam long-wave radio broadcasts in a radius of 10 metres.

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:19AM (#28052511)

    I know that sometimes in civil matters, people can bring a law suit to get a declaratory judgment saying that, for example, that they're not violating some particular trademark.

    Can citizens preemptively sue the FCC to get a declaratory judgment regarding the constitutionality of their rule?

    Or would we just get slapped down with that "no standing" bullshit, that means we have to take it in the a$$ at least once before the courts will protect us?

  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:23AM (#28052587)

    I posted this and got modded as troll. but its horribly TRUE, so mod me as you want but truth is truth.

    firemen CAN enter you home at any time, with only 'fire safety inspection' as the legal reason.

    I live in an apartment building and my landlord has been trying to do 'look sees' in tenants' places for years. its an unofficial snoop program, started back in the ashcroft days (see operation TIPS).

    when I refused to let them into my place (I work at home and I believe I have the right to be left alone to do my work in peace, undisturbed for any so-called walk-thru just to check my place out) they threatened to escalate to the fire dept and force their way thru. when I called the local housing dept to check on this, they confirmed - its a known loophole that landlords can use to violate your privacy - all they have to do is say 'fire inspection' and that gives them legal right - MORE THAN POLICE - to enter and look around - all they want. legally.

    people should know about this. I bet almost no one knew this legal loophole.

    you can refuse a cop at your door unless there's a warrant. you cannot refuse a fireman, even if there is no sign of imminent danger.

  • by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:26AM (#28052619) Homepage

    And where is the FCC saying that exactly? The examples in the article were exactly of the nature of someone running an illegal transmitter. Their assertion is that they have the right to inspect the device. So if you have a keyless entry on your car, they can ask to have a look at your signaling device and the receiver on the car. They can't go through your sock drawer looking for pot.

  • by jonaskoelker ( 922170 ) <jonaskoelker&yahoo,com> on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:38AM (#28052829)

    I have zero faith in politicians and government agencies to pass and enforce legislation that is constitutional, but the court system has for the most part kept them in check. Agree or not with which way they rule, the supreme court tends to make decent decisions in that regard.

    I don't know about how it works in the US, but in Denmark the members of parliament are not all lawyers. Some are (educated as) teachers, plumbers, farmers, electricians, liberal arts and other assorted trades.

    Sure, there's a lot of politics, economy and law majors, and the politicians have staff that might read over the laws for potential constitutionality problems; but they might perform at less than perfect competence, or not be available.

    I'd expect the judiciary to set a higher bar (pun not intended) than "popular".

  • by MindKata ( 957167 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:42AM (#28052899) Journal
    "Good thing the FCC isn't in the UK"

    The direct equivalent of the FCC in the UK is Ofcom. []

    That article has nothing to do with the scope of Ofcom or FCC as both are about enforcing adherence to legal broadcasting. (I seem to remember there is something in the broadcasting act to allow entry into homes to check equipment, (e.g. to stop pirate radio stations), but even if they cannot there are many other organisations in the UK that can enter the home for many reasons).

    As for organisations who have the right to enter UK homes, the number of them is growing all the time...

    Parking bailiffs may win right to enter homes []

    Bailiffs may get extra powers to enter homes []

    Official snoopers get extra powers to enter homes as 13 new laws 'boost Big Brother state' []

    That's just a few examples in the UK. Just look up anything Jacqui Smith is behind, because she is at the centre of the growing Police State in the UK.
  • Re:And under... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:43AM (#28052911) Homepage

    So Mr. FCC gets to come in and his friends insist on coming along, without a warrant, and get to poke around just like the law says they shouldn't.

    Nope. The FCC has the right to inspect your equipment. No one else gets to 'come for the ride'. If the FCC shows up with a cop and asks to see your wireless router, you can have them wait on the porch while you bring the router out. You can let Mr. FCC in and tell the cop to go get a cup of coffee. They can't 'poke around'. They can inspect equipment- you show them the equipment, they look at it. If they start opening drawers or lifting up carpets, they are conducting an illegal search. When the Fire Marshall comes into your building to perform fire safety inspection, it is very clearly limited by the law to a visual-only inspection; he can look at the door and see if it is blocked, he can ask you to produce your legally required fire extinguishers. He can't look through your sock drawer for matches and fireworks. That's the difference between an administrative inspection and a search.

  • by IgnoramusMaximus ( 692000 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:48AM (#28053009)

    Which is simply another way of saying: "You live in a lawless society".

    You see, the whole idea of "law" was supposed to be for a code to bind a society together by making every member capable of some action affecting others to follow a simple set of clear rules, which, again by definition, were to be simple enough to be memorized in entirety by everyone. That is why Hammurabi had the thing carved in stone and placed at public squares, so that "ignorance of the law" was not an excuse for breaking it.

    The moment however when the "law" becomes so complicated and ambiguous that it requires someone to "interpret it" (i.e. twist it to whatever whim of the moment is fanciful) the whole concept breaks. In short a society which needs lawyers, is by definition lawless, as "law" has morphed from the universal code of conduct to a byzantine, convoluted, religious scripture which requires a career priesthood to worship, massage, "interpret" and twist to the needs of whatever power caste is running the place at the time. The average denizen then simply becomes hapless prey for this caste of parasites with no recourse but to prostate himself/herself before the high-priests of "law" who hold the strings of the citizen's life or death in their hands.

    Ultimately, in a country of lawyers, by lawyers and for lawyers, the laws become such a sick caricature of the original idea that no one knows the "law" to its full extent, including all of its priests. One can test this simple supposition by simply asking any one of them to recite the "law" of the land from memory. In the USA, not only no lawyer, judge or politician could do it (even though the "law" is supposedly binding everyone and its ignorance is "no excuse") but they would not be able to tell you what the current definitive law is at all, even when given the ability to use books and databases to do it, as the code has become so byzantine that its successive layers upon layers of modifications and arcane religious language are so completely unmanageable that pretty much any "legal" decision needs an arbitrary "interpretation" by a cabal of priests.

    And this is why the majority of people instinctively hates lawyers, as even if most people cannot vocalize it, an average person's intrinsic moral compass is able to detect that something is profoundly wrong with the very idea of a lawyer.

  • Paranoid? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aahzimandious ( 1424393 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:09AM (#28053291)
    For the truly paranoid you'll worry about the NSA or the FBI piggy-backing with the FCC to get around such happy things as the Constitution and Due Process. It's just one more tool for them to use to justify the fact they are doing things out of due process and breaking the laws of the land. If they do all this to protect the land, is it really worth saving? *sad sigh*
  • Re:Well said! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IgnoramusMaximus ( 692000 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:00AM (#28054001)

    The problem is that the world is so complex nowadays, what with technology and global trade, that the amount of laws required seems to greatly surpass the memorization capabilities of any human (or even lawyer) in any country. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if so many laws are passed daily that it is simply impossible to keep up. Not enough hours in the day.

    That is what con-men would like you to think, but its not the truth. The truth is that most of our actions can be distilled to a simple set of universal rules, irrespective of what alterations in cosmetic appearances the technological and societal changes have brought on. "Do not kill, unless when under armed assault" for example does not change if the method of killing involved a rock, a baseball bat, or an orbital laser gun. Statements like "The Reichstag fire has changed everything", "9/11 has changed everything", "Internet has changed everything" etc are the very hallmarks of such con-artistry designed to fool the populace into eye-glazed stupor.

    The false notion that you have to create ever more byzantine laws to "keep up" is the very basis for the parasitic relationship the lawyers have with society. The correct method is the exact opposite: to refine and clarify laws by artfully phrasing them that they are at their most clear, concise while at the same time covering all possible cases. It is of course a very difficult task but which determines the difference between a just society and one merely pretending to be so.

    Naturally it comes as no surprise that the greatest enemy of such clarification and distillation of laws are lawyers. Clarity, simplicity and conciseness are the three great mortal foes of lawyers as that priesthood requirs not4sathe muck of confusion and complexity to swim in, where they can bottom feed in safety from scrutiny by those whose lives they control.

    So, what is the solution? Is there a solution? I don't think so. We're pretty much stuck with the current system which relies on faith, trust, common sense and dumb luck. All of which fail at some point or another, making the whole lot of us into criminals. Thus the whole "ignorance of the law is not an excuse" argument is wrong and, in fact, can be evil.

    Of course there is a solution. The problem has been in fact studied by mathematicians and algorithmic code theorists extensively, because the very same issues are present in issuing instructions to a computer. Instructions for building a society have great resemblance and operate on principally the same rules as computer software. And so not only whole sets of tools exist to achieve it, but there are whole volumes of scientific research already conducted to light the way.

    The sense of helplessness that you were sold is not only based upon a lie, it is the result of one of the oldest con games in history: making you artificially dependant on a "service" that only the con-man can "provide". Do not wear these blinders willingly.

  • I don't really mind being tagged "Flamebait" so long as I'm not modded "Troll". I do say things which are inflammatory. I don't say them just because they're inflammatory, but there's a fine line between that and my actual intention, which is to spark extended discussion.

    Here's a more in-depth version of what I was saying: Lincoln was a lawyer. Lawyers work with laws and lies. Even if they're not actually telling lies, they're still working with creative interpretation of law. The best interpretation of the law at the moment you're interpreting it is the most favorable to your client. Now, where do the laws come from? It would be overly simplistic to say that they come from the people simply because to become an influential member of government requires a certain type of person who is connected, knowledgeable, influential. In short, part of "the system" in which we all live and which informs if not governs all our actions: the weight of momentum.

    Politicians create laws. Often it is lawyers who become politicians, and then they make these laws, which then are handed down to the next generation of lawyers. And we get more laws, and more lawyers, and the laws become more and more baroque and we need more and more lawyers to interpret the laws for us. And these various interpretations become the body of case law, and inform the next generation of interpretations by the next generation of lawyers, making the whole thing fractally complicated.

    Where, exactly, has this gotten us? Has it given us more freedom? The states created the federal government to produce more freedom. Has this goal been accomplished? it is the FCC's (alleged) mission [] to "make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges." Has this actually happened? And furthermore, has it been accomplished in concordance with the ideals of the Constitution of these United States? More and more laws have been passed which assist the corporations in getting paid; have these corporations' gains served the American people? If not, is the FCC serving the American people? I think we can (mostly) agree that preventing individual asshats from crapping all over the spectrum is in the public interest. Having the "right" to enter your property without a warrant, on the other hand, is a bunch of crap.

    It seems to me that the solution ought to be that a judge can give a warrant to anybody, and the penalty for handing out a bad warrant ought to yet be fairly high; the FCC ought to have no unusual power to come onto your property, but a judge ought to hand them a warrant to come and look for a transmitter if there is good cause for it (e.g., they have triangulated the signal to your rooftop and you are being a big asshole.)

  • by Missing_dc ( 1074809 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:15AM (#28054261)

    Unfortunately there are too many lawyers in Washington, in fact, if I remember correctly, there was an ammendment to the constitution that was meant to cover this (prevent lawyers from holding office). It was ratified by 12 states, the paperwork from the 13th state(Virginia) was lost in a battle, so it got swept under the rug. I believe thats why they started numbering the ammendments. Its been awhile since I read about this, so I may be unintentionally ommiting something.

    Here is a link on it: []

  • by neomunk ( 913773 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:50AM (#28054787)

    Ah yes, another person who thinks that someone saying any public figure not having the best intentions of God, the universe and puppies in mind is somehow the very same type of person to grab the hem of your coat as you pass, begging you to look up and see the lizards coming out of the giant eye of the pyramid or something.

    People who blow off any thought of a public figure with power abusing that power are fools, not serious. History is chock full of small groups of people doing things against public interest for their own benefit. Now that we're in an age of instantaneous secure communication, all of the sudden nothing like that is going on and thinking that it might is grounds to have you mental health examined, or at least derision?

    No wonder middle class is dying, it's too easily led away from noticing the people who are killing it, and all it takes is some mindless drivel and a snide remark, usually about tinfoil clothing...

  • by karmatic ( 776420 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @12:10PM (#28055101)

    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.
    That is not always the case.

    I was served with search warrant - they did not even let me read it first. They, quite literally, told me - here is the warrant, let us in now, or we break in the door. You can read it while we search.

  • by IgnoramusMaximus ( 692000 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @12:14PM (#28055151)

    We should eliminate the need for lawyers by moving to a religious law system like they have in Middle Eastern countries. It's pretty straightforward. There's one text that we all follow--not too much for the average person to memorize.

    You should ponder upon why Judeo-Christian religions (of which Islam is an off-shoot) are so vastly popular. And if you do, you will find that it is an average person's deep-seated desire for a concise, clear set of rules to govern society that is at the very heart of it. Mock that desire it at your own peril.

    Laws are interpreted by those doing the enforcing, so in most cases we wouldn't even need a court system.

    You always need an arbitration process to prevent abuse.

    Disputes are settled by consulting the book, and the authority of said book is final.

    And that is different from, say, the US constitution, how exactly?

    The difference between law and religion is that laws are man-made, and subject to alteration by men, religions are supposedly handed down from a deity and as such unalterable by men. They do not differ however when it comes to the method of application: both operate based on a set of rules, all of which are final (but in the case of laws of men, subject to change in the course of history).

    And we wouldn't ever want to update the book, because that would lead to the kind of instability and uncertainty you're objecting to.

    Bullshit. Well designed laws, even though they can be changed, require less and less modifications as more refined they become. Bullshit, byzantine, intellectual diarrhoea "laws" are in a state of constant chaotic flux and become more and more confused and voluminous as the time passes, because confusion and chaos are their very purpose.

    If your case doesn't fall under one of the predefined situations, we just find the closest one and go with that.

    Again, bullshit. Religions do that because they have no mechanism to correct their "commandments". Human laws do. But that does not mean that a correction must always be uniformly in the direction of more complexity. In fact the whole art of law-making is to go in the precisely the opposite direction, to formulate simple laws in such a way as to cover all cases.

    This is the only way to create a uniform system that is applied fairly in all situations.

    Total nonsense, as I already pointed out.

    You're absolutely correct that the problem is not that individuals may find themselves in differing situations and thus need the law applied differently to reach a reasonable result, but that judges and lawyers have too long been allowed to permit such vague concepts as subtlety and nuance to cloud the issue.

    This has nothing to do with "subtlety" and "nuance". It has to do with byzantine, arcane, sets of incomprehensible to an average citizen rules, purposefully formulated so in a special religious language so that he or she has no chance ever being able to deal with them without assistance of a special priest.

    The true "subtlety" and "nuance" are part of law making, whereby the law has to be formulated in such a clever way as to maintain total clarity and to prevent the need for any arcane "interpretations" at the time of its application.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Friday May 22, 2009 @12:29PM (#28055405) Homepage

    We generally call it, "Don't be a douchebag law," up here in Canada. It works fairly we, for the most part Canadian society is fairly well mannered society. This also runs from common law, and the rest of our government. Seems to have been working well for the last little bit.

  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @12:36PM (#28055505)

    One tidbit criminals in prison often share with each other is that, if you have a knife on you and the police catch you going in through a window, you are going to be charged with armed robbery. On the other hand, if you enter unarmed, and grab a knife in the kitchen or a gun from the homeowner's own cabinet, you can make it look like you were not prepared to commit a violent assault if you are caught early. Since the chances are if the cops catch you, it will be either entering or leaving, this minimizes your risks. I don't know if that's really very logical and I doubt the crooks consult actuarial tables or whatever before coming up with such ideas, but that's the sort of thing that's taught to new crooks, often as minors in 'juvie', before they even get to the adult prison system.
            Now, knowing that, should I assume that there's a good chance anyone breaking into my home isn't actually likely to plan to use violence, or should I assume that there's a high probability. much higher than people generally suspect. If the percentage of burglars who plan to use violence is significantly higher than the percentage caught already armed as they enter, then that's what I should be basing my response on.
            If the intruder is really just committed to grabbing some stuff and running, that's a tough break, but still, it happens in part because there's such a good chance he's really a pro who has been given some nasty guidance by his peers. I'm not saying this to defend the cases where a guy gets shot in the back as he is running away with the TV, but where there's reasonable doubt if force was really appropriate, I think that doubt has to go to the homeowner.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday May 22, 2009 @01:07PM (#28055973) Journal

    Holding the 1934 law as constitutional would give the FCC the authority to inspect pretty much any house in the country, completely defeating the point of the 4th amendment. There is no way in hell they would win in court.

    Holding that wheat [] grown and consumed on one's own property constitutes interstate commerce would give the Federal government authority to regulate everything and anything, completely defeating the point of the interstate commerce clause. They won that case in court, I see no reason to believe they wouldn't win here.

    The constitution hasn't meant dick in a very, very long time.

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