FCC Catches Vigilante Highway Cell Phone Jammer, Wants To Fine Him $48K

Admit it: there’s been at least one moment in your life when you secretly wished for a cell phone jammer in your pocket. Maybe you were in line at the grocery store, or watching a movie, or someone who wouldn’t stop texting almost merged into you on the highway. However, you should not actually do this. Why? Let the case of this Florida man serve as a cautionary tale.

Florida doesn’t have any law banning motorists from using mobile phones while driving. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s report, their enforcement bureau received a complaint from MetroPCS (now part of T-Mobile) about a year ago that they were experiencing interference with their towers. The FCC figured out that the interference was coming from a moving source, and that source was moving along Interstate 4 between Tampa and Seffner, Florida. Clearly, it was a vehicle.

FCC agents and the local sheriff’s department used direction-finding equipment to find the motorist with the signal jammer–it was concealed inside his passenger seat. He vigilante admitted that yes, he purchased it to shut up fellow motorists, and had been doing so for 16 months to a year.

The thing is, driving around with a jammer is not just illegal, but it’s also dangerous. The law enforcement officers pursuing him had trouble communicating with each other, because the frequency they use to communicate with each other was blocked, too.

As much as we all might want to block others’ phones sometimes, it’s illegal because blocking wireless communications blocks all wireless communications, even emergency ones.

Jammers are designed to impede authorized communications, thereby interfering with the rights of the general public and legitimate spectrum users. They may also disrupt critical emergency communications between first responders, such as public safety, law enforcement, emergency medical, and emergency response personnel. Similarly, jammers can endanger life and property by preventing individuals from making 9-1-1 or other emergency calls or disrupting communications essential to aviation and marine safety.

Why has the FCC proposed a $48,000 fine, though? That amount isn’t entirely random. Agents observed the man blocking calls on three separate occasions on three different days before pulling him over and seizing the device. Violations of the Communications Act of 1934, the law (which has since been amended quite a bit) that brought the FCC into existence lead to “forfeitures,” or fines. The highest fine imposed on an individual for each violation of the law is now $16,000. Multiply that by three, and you get $48,000.

NOTICE OF APPARENT LIABILITY FOR FORFEITURE ILLEGAL OPERATION OF SIGNAL JAMMING DEVICE [FCC] (via The Verge)

Read Comments8

Edit Your Comment

  1. mongo says:

    The $48K fine is too light.

    Imagine how many calls he interrupted, prevented and dropped. A doctor on foot in a building deserves to be hung up, huh?

    Besides the wireless companies should file civil suit against this guy for costing them hundreds of thousands in customer support calls and bad PR from torqued off customers plus the technical troubleshooting. to find out what was going on in the area.

    • Cara says:

      I agree. It’s easy to say “yay! Good for him, he’s stopping drivers from getting distracted and killing other people.” – but it’s not just drivers that were affected. Any passengers, any person in a nearby building, people who have a legal (or at least not illegal) right to use a cell phone. And the device can’t distinguish between an unnecessary phone call and one that is an absolute emergency.

      And it’s not up to him to decide who can use a cell phone at any given time.

  2. trustnot says:

    His big mistake, repeatedly using the jammer on the same stretch affecting cars and affected towers. You don’t need to buy one, you can make one with limited coverage. Save it for the movies, the fine restaurant, etc. not just as a nuisance toy.

  3. ZLoth says:

    The FCC tends to frown on anything that adversely affects public safety or emergency communications. They have also come down hard on someone who installed a GPS jammer just to avoid being tracked in a work truck because it interfered with a nearby airport landing system as well as a company who installed a cell phone jammer to prevent employees from talking on their cell phones while at work.

  4. SingleMaltGeek says:

    What an idiot.

    I wouldn’t do this because of the reasons mentioned by the other commenters, but if I were so inclined I’d use a jammer with a very short range, wait until there was someone close by using a cell phone in a dangerous or careless manner, and only then turn the jammer on for just 10-15 seconds.

    But of course I would never.

  5. RupturedDuck says:

    How about (1) raising the fines for illegal phone use while driving , and (2) returning a sizable portion of the fine back to the police department issuing the ticket? Make a first offense $250. Double it ($500) for a second offense within a year, and third and subsequent offenses (within a year of the previous one) to $1,000. Return eighty percent of the fine to the police department issuing the ticket.

    Revenue raising? Yup! And tell everyone about it. An incentive for the police to actually enforce the law? What’s so wrong for going after drivers that cause twice as many accidents as drunk drivers.

    • CzarChasm says:

      While I totally agree with the thought behind this, I am afraid it would lead to police departments raising revenue by claiming people were using cell phones, who were not actually using cell phones.

      • SingleMaltGeek says:

        You could always submit a FOIA request to the NSA for your phone activity records.

        [/snark]