FCC Backtracks Approval on Jamming Device
The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on consumers, manufacturers, and retailers who market, sell, or use cell phone and GPS “jamming” devices. Jamming devices are identified as radio frequency transmitters that intentionally block, jam, or interfere with all types of lawful communications.
In a significant turnaround, the FCC pulled its approval of the TxTStopper™ jamming device, which the commission initially had approved before manufacturer Shenzhen Tangreat Technology Co. LTD (STTC) began selling it via the Internet last summer.
TxtStopper was billed as an “accident avoidance/occupant safety device” and heralded in media as a preventative for car accidents caused by cell phone use; a widespread practice reported by the National Safety Council to cause 1.6 million accidents a year – 200,000 of which resulted from texting.
Products Not Identical
TxTStopper jammed all cell-phone calls, texting, and wi-fi networks (such as emails) while in a moving car. The device was granted an FCC certification number, but the commission ordered STTC to remove it from the marketplace in February 2011.
On February 9, 2011, the FCC released an Order to Show Cause and Notice of Opportunity for Hearing. The order explains that STTC was able to get the FCC certification by presenting the device as a Class B computer peripheral; however, the product being marketed on the Web site wasn’t identical to the one authorized in the certification.
The use of cell jammers is a violation of federal law under amendments to the Communications Act of 1934, because the devices emit radio signals that interfere with regulated signals.
David Fiske, Director of Media Relations at the FCC, said that he cannot talk about a pending case. But he did say that the FCC had not received a response from STTC as of mid-March. The company had 30 days after release of the order to provide a written appearance or respond.
“The basic problem is that jammers not only disrupt authorized radio services, but they can also jeopardize critical public safety communications. So they can interfere with 911 calls, they compromise law enforcement efforts,” said Fiske.
In just the last two weeks, the FCC issued warnings to four “well-known” online retailers, directing them to “cease marketing jamming devices to customers in the U.S. or face stiff fines,” according to the release.
“Provided all the information I’ve read on the case is accurate, the FCC’s ruling in the TxtStopper case seems valid,” said Daniel Hubbell, a Midland, Michigan, audio engineer with more than 35 years of experience. “From what I can ascertain, Shenzhen might’ve engaged in a bit of bait-and-switch by marketing a product significantly different from what the FCC had approved.”
Hubbell says the five-foot range claimed for jammers such as TxtStopper probably isn’t strong enough to block cell phone use reliably in the first place, and additionally argues that cell phones have legitimate uses in vehicles, including 911 and other emergency calls.
Alyssa Carducci (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Tampa, Florida.