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Does Section 303N of the Communications Act of 1934 Mean the Feds Will Search Your Home Without a Warrant?

Updated on April 4, 2017
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, engineer, mother of 2, and a published sci-fi and horror author.

Introduction

Does Section 303(n) of the Communications Act of 1934 mean that the feds can search your home without a warrant if you have a ham radio license, slang for having an amateur radio license? Conspiracy theories have arisen that this Act is used to justify warrantless inspections of homes with wireless equipment, those accused of broadcasting without a license or even anyone’s home. What does the Act say, and what does the government actually do regarding its enforcement?

What Does the Communication Act of 1934 Say?

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the Communication Act of 1934 gives the FCC the “authority to inspect all radio installations associated with stations required to be licensed by any Act”. It also states that the federal government can inspect any station that would legally be required by the government to have a license per section 307(e)(1) but doesn’t have one.

Does section 303N of the Communications Act of 1934 mean the feds will search your home without a warrant? Is the Communications Act ever used to inspect homes without a warrant? Let's ask an industry expert, Kent Britain, WA5VJB.

A yagi antenna designed by WA5VJB
A yagi antenna designed by WA5VJB | Source

How Often Does the Federal Government Inspect Amateur Radio Stations?

I interviewed Kent Britain, WA5VJB, a ham radio operator and antenna expert with several decades of experience for his opinion. I asked him his opinion on the theory of this FCC regulation being used to give the government the ability to invade any ham radio operator’s premises for a warrantless inspect or as an excuse to inspect anyone’s home under the premise that there is broadcast equipment there.

Does the Communication Act of 1934 mean Feds can search your home without a warrant?

That is correct. They can inspect any radio station, but they need some kind of reason. Never heard of a WiFi router being the subject of a search, though. (And he designs antennas for this application, tests them with the FCC and oversees their manufacture.)

And have they (the FCC) ever done so?

Actually, the biggest problem is the other way around. I know of two hams, one in New York City and one is southern California, who spent years jamming ham and even police networks. It wasn't until the California one jammed a Coast Guard Exercise that he was arrested. And even then, I don't know if it was FCC people that arrested him.

In NYC, there is ham who spends hours playing profanity laced comedy skits over the local repeaters and nets. They know who he is, but they can't get the FCC to do anything.

Last I heard, there were only 2 inspectors for this region (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Oklahoma). And they have been spending their time inspecting outdoor radio towers to make sure they were the proper shade of high visibility orange (so they aren’t hit by aircraft).

The last FCC inspection of a home station (CB, not Ham Radio) I personally know of was back in the 70's. QST magazine did have an article on a ham (radio operator) in Houston who the FCC shut down. He was running 35,000 watts on 80 Meters using an old TV transmitter. His shack looked like an electrical substation. That was in the 1980's, more than 30 years ago.

As long as your antennas aren't too tall or you're interfering with other, important broadcasts, you won't be bothered by the FCC.
As long as your antennas aren't too tall or you're interfering with other, important broadcasts, you won't be bothered by the FCC. | Source

Key Takeaways

  • Yes, a ham radio license theoretically gives the FCC the right to come into your home and inspect the station.
  • No, FCC inspectors are not doing this on any scale, nor have they done so to the knowledge of a leading expert in any capacity for decades unless it was truly for criminal acts.
  • Don’t let conspiracy theories like this cause you to get ham radio equipment and avoid getting a ham radio license out of fear of a home invasion.

Summary

While the federal intelligence agencies have been collecting everyone’s data without a warrant for years – and using that data for political purposes all too often – don’t let fear prevent you from becoming a ham radio operator or operating amateur radio equipment without a license.

Antenna expert Kent Britain, WA5VJB, knows of no cases in the past thirty years where the FCC affected a home operator, and that case was involving someone whose broadcasts interfered with military operations. The rest of us have nothing to be worried about, at least when it comes to amateur radio.

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