The Federal Communications Commission fined a Merced, California man $7,000 after he refused to let FCC investigators inspect his citizens band (CB) radio station.
The commission alleges Ira Jones “apparently willfully and repeatedly” violated FCC rules by failing to permit the inspection.
After complaints of radio frequency interference within the radio communication system equipment of the Merced County Fire Department, the Enforcement Bureau’s San Francisco office requested permission to inspect Jones’ CB radio station in order to determine the cause of interference and resolve it.
On March 26, 2010 and August 27, 2010, Ira Jones denied the agents permission to inspect his CB radio station. During both inspection attempts, the agents explained that he was in violation for denying an inspection and provided him with written on-scene notices warning of the consequences. Jones refused to accept the two written warnings, and the agents left the notices on his outdoor property.
‘No Warrant Required’
The FCC order states Ira Jones refused to allow an inspection of his CB radio station without a search warrant.
“The Citizens’ Band of spectrum is unlicensed, which means that anyone may use it subject to certain restrictions established by the FCC,” said Ryan Radia, associate director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The Commission has authority to investigate devices that are suspected to be in violation of the rules,” he said.
“Courts have broadly interpreted administrative searches to constitute an exception to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” Radia continued. “As such, FCC searches of citizens’ radio equipment do not require a warrant issued by a judge upon a showing of probable cause.”
During the second inspection Jones stated he was the owner and operator of the CB radio station, but was not the owner of the house and therefore had to deny the inspection. But after further conversation he subsequently admitted to being the owner of the house.
‘Concerns of Overzealous Inspection’
“That’s the extent right now of what we have done,” said David Fiske, director of media relations for the FCC, referring to issuance of the Forfeiture Order.
Jones must pay the $7,000 Forfeiture Order by April 10 or file a written statement.
The 1934 Communications Act grants the commission “authority to inspect all radio installations associated with stations required to be licensed by any Act, or which the Commission by rule has authorized to operate without a license.”
The rules also authorize FCC representatives’ access to CB stations and records for inspection upon request. The commission has no requirement that an agent be required to get a warrant prior to any inspection.
“One way policymakers can address concerns of overzealous inspection of radio equipment by the FCC is by conferring spectrum property rights to private citizens and companies,” said Radia.
“While enforcing property rights is a legitimate government function, regulating spectrum commons such as the CB band invariably results in disputes over access and device rules,” Radia said.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.