The FCC claims that its powers to inspect radio equipment in order to catch pirate radio stations means that it can also enter and search any home that has a WiFi access point, a cordless phone, a baby monitor, or a cell phone.
"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.
FCC's Warrantless Household Searches Alarm Experts
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."
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