warrantless searches: the banal and the newsworthy

With the aid of high-tech equipment not in general public use, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) monitors radiation emanating from a variety of sities, including homes. In addition, the FCC claims legal authority to enter a home without a search warrant, find a device of concern, and collect information about it (“inspect radio equipment”).

Under such regulation, Benjamin Franklin might have gotten into trouble with the law for messing with spark-gap radiators (Leyden jars) within his home. Perhaps to avoid that danger he might have invented an effective cloaking technology.

Why is government monitoring of radiation associated with illegal home-based radio stations less controversial than government monitoring of radiation associated with a potentially catastrophic “dirty bomb”?

Why is inspection, without a specific warrant, of radio devices within homes less controversial than inspection, without a specific warrent, of suspected communication about terrorists acts?

Perhaps because spy agencies and terrorism provide an exciting framework for grave scholarly discussion and heated political hyperbole. Radio regulation, in contrast, is, well, boring. You don’t even need leaked classified documents to find out about government monitoring of (radio) radiation!

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