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)