Monday, January 18, 2021

FCC/ARRL Issue Unusual Warnings About Potential Misuse of Amateur Radio

In an unusual Sunday "Enforcement Advisory," the FCC on January 17 reminded amateurs - as well as users of other personal radio services - of the line between free speech and the prohibited uses of personal radio services to commit or facilitate criminal acts. The Enforcement Bureau notice read in part,

"The Bureau has become aware of discussions on social media platforms suggesting that certain radio services regulated by the Commission may be an alternative to social media platforms for groups to communicate and coordinate future activities. The Bureau recognizes that these services can be used for a wide range of permitted purposes, including speech that is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Amateur and Personal Radio Services, however, may not be used to commit or facilitate crimes.

"Specifically," the notice continued, "the Bureau reminds amateur licensees that they are prohibited from transmitting 'communications intended to facilitate a criminal act' or 'messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.' Likewise, individuals operating radios in the Personal Radio Services, a category that includes Citizens Band radios, Family Radio Service walkie-talkies, and General Mobile Radio Service, are prohibited from using those radios 'in connection with any activity which is against Federal, State or local law.' Individuals using radios in the Amateur or Personal Radio Services in this manner may be subject to severe penalties, including significant fines, seizure of the offending equipment, and, in some cases, criminal prosecution."

The ARRL followed up with an email to all members "on the purpose of Amateur Radio," reminding hams that amateur radio "is about development of communications and responsible public service. Its misuse is inconsistent with its history of service and statutory charter." 

The League's email did not reference the FCC Public Notice. As a result, it was unclear to many who received only the ARRL email what had prompted the unusual reminder.