Got a cell-phone? FCC claims the right to search your house

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.

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."

FCC's Warrantless Household Searches Alarm Experts


  1. OFCOM have similar powers here in the UK even for televisions (that are not normally designed to transmit RF!) but in that regard it is related to TV license non-payment but same goes for if they have reasonable evidence that there is a source of radio interference on the premises, then a warrant would be issued.

    Their power of entry is often greater than that of the police because the warrant of entry is such cases are not issued to a police officer so they are not restricted by the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that a officer would be.

    On a side note, HAM operators are bound in term of the license to allow entry of ANY PERSONS AUTHORISED BY OFCOM at a reasonable time to inspect and test ANY radio equipment on the premises. A “reasonable time” could be 3am if they have evidence you are transmitting at that time.

  2. How to handle FCC types who come knocking is well known among the pirate radio stations of the world. Mainly, never let them know what kind of equipment you have, and never let them inside without a warrant.

    The key is that you can’t confiscate equipment without having it listed on a warrant – therefore if they don’t know what equipment you have, they can’t get permission to take it away.

    The FCC will knock on your door and say “we need to come in and inspect your equipment.” This is their generic tactic and they will make it sound as if they have the right to do so without your permission, just like a cop will try to trick you into admitting guilt when writing you a ticket.

    Respectfully decline them entry into your home (or wherever) and tell them you’d be more than happy to comply with any warrants they might have. Sometimes they will show you a warrant but it will not be signed, so make sure a judge has actually approved it before you concede that it is a valid warrant.

    If they try to claim the 1934 law, you can cite an even older one form 1787 which states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Perhaps they’ve heard of it.

    Finally, go watch the Christian Slater classic “pump up the volume.” You’ll learn how to set up wireless telephones around your neighborhood to act as proxies and build your own mobile cell-phone signal broadcasting van that the FCC will never be able to track down!

  3. Just think what fantastic things the DEA and the FCC could do if they put their heads together!

  4. when was it that these dumbshits forgot that the Constitution supersedes all other law?

  5. The FCC today consists of acres of lawyers and not enough enforcement agents to play a decent game of volley ball. Those agents are limited to using monitoring equipment to gather evidence to establish probable cause that a violation is taking place at a given location. Usually step 1 is an attempt to make contact by phone or by mail. If the violation continues, a warrant is sought. The actual search and seizure is done by the FCC and a federal agent (read cop).
    This process can be stepped up if the interference caused is to aircraft navigation or public safety radio (police & fire etc.)
    Decades ago RF devices were inspected by the FCC before they could come to market. Today the FCC is notified by the manufacturer that the device meets required specs. Sometimes the FCC makes headlines by coming to a trade show and trolling the aisles with a meter looking for devices in violation of the rules.
    The push for unlicensed white space devices is fools gold. If your application is being clobbered by a neighbor, tough. The FCC will do nothing to support you. You have no claim or priority to the frequency you’re using.

  6. there’s a growing market for home fortification. House hardening disguised as burglar proofing but is really to slow the feds down.

  7. Is there any record of the FCC abusing this law? I agree it’s ludicrous to assert that kind of right in this day and age, but in 1934 I’m sure it seemed a lot more reasonable.

  8. when was it that these dumbshits forgot that the Constitution supersedes all other law?

  9. Here’s a similarly broad claim: the 2nd Amendment “right to bear arms” means I can own nuclear weapons.

  10. @12 ILL LICH,

    Totally! but I’m not to big on nuclear weapons. I just want a bazooka. Hmmm…. Maybe a bazooka with nuclear warheads!!!

    Take THAT constitution!

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