If the FCC Knocks


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Produced by the Committee on Democratic Communications A National Committee of the National Lawyers Guild (NOTE: The following discussion assumes that you are not a licensed broadcaster.)

Q: If FCC agents knock on my door and say they want to talk with me, do I have to answer their questions?

A: No. You have a right to say that you want a lawyer present when and if you speak with them, and if they will give you their names, you will be back in touch with them. Unless you have been licensed to broadcast the FCC has no right to "inspect" your home.

Q: If they say they have a right to enter my house without a warrant to see if I have broadcasting equipment, do I have to let them in?

A: No. Under Section 303(n) of Title 47. U.S. C., the FCC has a right to inspect any transmitting devices that must be licensed under the Act Nonetheless, they must have permission to enter your home, or some other basis for entering beyond their mere supervisorial powers. With proper notice, they do have a right to inspect your communications devices. If they have given you notice of a pending investigation, contact a lawyer immediately.

Q: If they have evidence that I am "illegally" broadcasting from my home, can they enter anyway, even without a warrant or without my permission?

A: They will have to go to court to obtain a wan-ant to enter your home. But, if they have probable cause to believe you are currently engaging in illegal activities* of any sort, they, with the assistance of the local police, can enter your home without a warrant to prevent those activities from continuing. Basically, they need either a warrant, or probable cause to believe a crime is going on at the time they are entering your home.

Q: If I do not cooperate with their investigation, and they threaten to arrest me, or have me arrested, should I cooperate with them?

A: If they have a legal basis for arresting you, it is very likely that they will prosecute you regardless of what you say. Therefore, what you say Will only assist them in making a stronger case against you. Do not speak to them without a lawyer there.

Q: If they have an arrest or a search warrant, should I let them in my house?

A: Yes. Give them your name and address and tell them that you want to have your lawyer contacted immediately before you answer any more questions. If you are arrested, you have a right to make several telephone calls within 3 hours of booking.

Q: Other than FCC fine for engaging in illegal transmissions, what other risks do I take in engaging in micro-radio broadcasts.
A: Section 501 of the Act provides that violations of the Act can result in the imposition of a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both. A second conviction results in a potentially longer sentence. If you are prosecuted under this section of the Act and you are indigent (unable to hire an attorney), the court will have to appoint one for you.

Q: Are there any other penalties that can be imposed upon me for "illegal broadcasts."

A: Under Section 5 10 of the Act, the FCC can attempt to have your communicating equipment seized and forfeited for violation of the requirements set forth in the Act. Once again, if they attempt to do this, you will be given notice of action against you, and have an opportunity to appear in court to fight the FCCs. action. Realize, though, that they will try to keep your equipment and any other property they can justify retaining until the proceedings are completed. You have a right to seek return of your property from the court at any time.

Q: If the FCC agents ask me if I knew I was engaged in illegal activities, should I deny any knowledge FCC laws or any illegal activities?

A: No. You will have plenty of time to answer their accusations after you have spoken with an attorney. It is a separate crime to lie to law enforcement officials about material facts. Remain silent.

Q: If I am considering broadcasting over micro-radio, is there anything I can do ahead of time to minimize the likelihood of prosecution?

A: Yes. Speak with an attorney before you are approached by law enforcement to discuss the different aspects of FCC law. Arrange ahead of time for someone to represent you when and if the situation arises, so that you will already have prepared a strategy of defense.

Q: What can I do if the FCC agents try to harass me by going to my landlord, or some other source to apply pressure on me?

A: So long as there is a I o proof that you have violated the law, you cannot be prosecuted or evicted. If there is evidence of misconduct, you might have to defend yourself in court. Depending upon what the FCC said or did, you might be able to raise a defense involving selective prosecution or other equivalent argument. If the conduct of the agents is clearly harassment, rather than a proper investigation, you can file a complaint with the F.C.C. or possibly a civil action against them.

Q: If I want to legally pursue FCC licensing for a new FM station, what should I do?

A: It isn't the purpose of this Q and A sheet to advocate or discourage non-licensed broadcast operations. A person cited by the FCC for illegal broadcasting will find it virtually impossible to later obtain permission to get a license. If you want to pursue the licensing procedure, see the procedures set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47,'Part 73. The application form (Form # 301 A) is extremely complicated, and requires a filing fm of S2,030.00. If you want to contact the FCC directly, call them at their Consumer Assistance and Small Business Division, Room 254, 1919 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20554, tel (202) 632-7260. Don't bother to try this without significant financial backing.