We’re surrounded by wireless gizmos — cell phones, cordless phones, Wi-Fi networks — day and night and at home and at work. But did you know the FCC can enter your home whenever it would care to in order to inspect all that gear? And they don’t need a search warrant to do so.
Wired reports on this long-lingering policy of the FCC, which was originally designed to ensure that people aren’t encroaching on regulated portions of the wireless spectrum from way back in the early days of radio — the main idea being to knock pirate radio stations off the air and to ensure that gear isn’t causing interference in parts of the spectrum where it doesn’t belong. One can imagine this could be a big problem in areas near military installations, should a consumer decide to fire up a transmitter that garbles a critical Air Force communications band, so some measure of oversight is certainly a good idea.
But times have changed since then — the original act that allowed the searches dates back to 1934 and its constitutionality has never been seriously tested in courts — and the world of wireless is a far different beast than it was when only the occasional citizen owned a CB or a ham radio and wanted to broadcast from his car or apartment. Now, just about everything we use on a daily basis is seemingly subject to regulation by the FCC.
That has an increasing number of experts alarmed, as the FCC’s jurisdiction stretches beyond just computers and cell phones to baby monitors and remote control key fobs for your car. It’s safe to say that nearly every household in America would be compelled to open its doors for the FCC on request so the agency could investigate at its whim whether you’re breaking the law. Refuse to let them in, and fines can run into the thousands of dollars.
Privacy advocates are specifically worried that the FCC could become (and arguably has already become) a tool of law enforcement to gain quick and easy entry into a home, where feds can search for additional transgressions unrelated to wireless technology once they have a foot in the door, no warrant needed. A 1987 Supreme Court case suggests this has already happened at least once, and has been upheld, after officers found stolen vehicles and prosecuted while performing an unrelated wireless investigation at an auto junkyard.
A little scary, eh?