“Hi, We’re From the FCC and We Are Here to Search Your Cellphone”

From the increasingly populated intersection of the Fourth Amendment and modern technology, comes this story from Wired’s "Threat Level."  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claims the right enter onto any property to inspect — without a warrant — any radio equipment, regardless of whether it is licensed or unlicensed.  In an interview with Wired, an FCC spokesperson claimed that the FCC’s right to inspect radio equipment extends to “anything using RF energy.”  This includes commonplace items like wireless internet routers, remote access car keys, and cell phones.  Additionally if any illegal or suspicious items or behavior are discovered or observed during a warrantless administrative search, these observations may be the basis for a criminal search warrant or arrest.  Despite some substantial disagreements about this application of the law, operators have been fined by the FCC for failure to allow such warrantless inspections.  The ubiquity of items the FCC claims it may inspect without a warrant, combined with the potential for such searches to lead to criminal actions, is causing privacy advocates to react with concern.  And with good reason, as this could be a prelude to the expansion of other types of administrative searches.


  • Cory Doctorow reports on the FCC’s inspection policy at BoingBoing here
  • The Federal Communications Commission’s homepage is here
  • The Federal Communications Commission’s “2005 Inspection Policy” can be found at their website here
  • The Federal Communications Commission’s order imposing a fine for failure to allow inspection of radio equipment can be found here or at their website here
  • John Byrne reports on the FCC’s inspection policy at the Raw Story here
  • Rouge Radio Research’s FAQ arguing the FCC lacks the power to inspect unlicensed radio stations can be found here
  • Ryan Singel’s report breaking this story at Wired, “FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches Alarm Experts”, can be found here


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