Et tu, Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts house is considering a bill to outlaw unauthorized transmission in the AM and FM broadcast band. The bill, H.1679 is included here for your reading pleasure:

SECTION 1: The General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after chapter 93I, the following chapter:-

Chapter 93J. UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TELECOMMUNICATION

Section 1. As used in this chapter the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:—

“Emission”, radiation produced, or the production of radiation, by a radio transmitting station.

“License”, a radio frequency assigned by the Federal Communications Commission for use by amplitude modulation (AM) radio stations between the frequencies of five hundred thirty kilohertz (kHz) to seventeen hundred kilohertz (kHz), or frequency modulation (FM) radio stations between the frequencies of eighty-eight megahertz (MHz) to one hundred eight megahertz (MHz).

“Person”, a natural person, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity.

“Radio telecommunication”, any transmission, emission or reception of signals and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems

Section 2. Any unauthorized radio telecommunication or emission to, or interference with, a public or commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission are prohibited.

No person shall (a) make, or cause to be made, a radio telecommunication in the Commonwealth unless the person obtains a license or an exemption from licensure from the Federal Communications Commission under 47 U.S.C. s. 301, 47 U.S.C., s. 605, or other applicable federal law or regulation; or (b) do any act, whether direct or indirect, to cause an unlicensed radio telecommunication to, or inference with, a public or commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission or to enable the radio telecommunication or interference to occur.

Section 3. The attorney general may bring an action pursuant to section 4 of chapter 93A against a person or otherwise to remedy violations of this chapter and for other relief that may be appropriate.

Section 4. A person may assert a claim under this section in superior court, whether by way of original complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party action, for money damages, injunctive relief, and forfeiture of any property used in violation of this section. Said damages may include double or treble damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

No forfeiture under this section shall extinguish a perfected security interest held by a creditor in a conveyance or in any real property or in any personal property at the time of the filing of the forfeiture action. Said forfeiture action shall be commenced in superior court.

This legislation is slightly different from the anti-pirate laws in NY and Florida as it appears the unauthorized operators would be liable for civil and not criminal penalties.  That is an interesting twist; potentially, a commercial broadcaster could sue an interfering pirate operator for loss of revenue, etc.  At least that is my interpretation of the above text and as I am not an attorney, I could be wrong.

It is also interesting to me that very few pirate operators in NY have actually faced a non-FCC law enforcement agency as of yet.  I have heard about only one, which was in NYC.  Is the criminalization of unauthorized broadcaster really affective in curbing pirates?  A quick tune around the NYC FM dial says no.  There are more pirates than ever and the NYPD seems to be too busy with other issues to go after them.

Panopticon

I have read an interesting series of articles on something called Panopticon. This is a concept put forward by an English social engineer where a prison is built in such away that allows all inmates to be observed at anytime without their knowing whether they are under observation or not.   Jeremy Bentham described it alternatively as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example,” or “a mill for grinding rogues honest.”

Panopticon, courtesy of Wikipedia
Panopticon, courtesy of Wikipedia

A few examples were built and used for a while:

Presidio Modelo Prison, Cuba
Presidio Modelo Prison, Cuba

This is, of course, tied to the current situation that the nation finds itself in with the NSA. The defenders of these actions have two common refrains; nothing we did is against the law and if you are not doing anything wrong than you have nothing to fear. Both are wrong, of course.

First, the notion that constitutional rights can be regulated away is incorrect. The US Supreme Court has ruled that (Marbury V. Madison) in the Constitution, the people established a government of limited powers: “The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written.” The limits established in the Constitution would be meaningless “if these limits may at any time be passed by those intended to be restrained.” Chief Justice John Marshall observed that the Constitution is “the fundamental and paramount law of the nation”, and that it cannot be altered by an ordinary act of the legislature. Therefore, “an act of the Legislature repugnant to the Constitution is void.” The limits of government intrusion provided in the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States stand, regardless of what the USA PATRIOT Act or any other recently passed federal legislation says.

Secondly, anytime a government has given itself this much power, things have not ended well. In conjunction with the NSA’s all seeing eye, the executive branch has also acquired the power to detain and hold indefinitely without charge anyone deemed a threat (defined as “terrorist”) to the government (NDAA 2012, 2013) and the ability to extra-judicially kill all they see fit (Justice Department: US drone strikes constitutional). Of course, neither of these things are constitutional either.

As the former East German Stasi officer Wolfgang Schmidt states “It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used.”  We have, through our own lethargy and inattention brought upon ourselves the overly attached government, only not as cute as that, something like this:

I will be your girlfriend
I will be your girlfriend

Heaven forbid.

I wrote, a while back, that we have not reached a Runnymede moment. I retract that statement, we have indeed reached a point in time where civil disobedience may be necessary in order to restore our constitutional republic.  The time for being safe, sitting on the fence, flying under the RADAR is over.  As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:

And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.

Let us not learn the hard way.

Chasing down a Pirate Radio station

I stumbled on this video on youtube. It seems like some old guy has too much time on his hands and is out being a private citizen vigilante:

Part one, he is driving around a neighborhood with a spectrum analyzer looking at signal strength:

Seems slightly creepy.

Then there is part II, the plot twist:

Actually, looks like a nice studio. PRE BMX II console, RE-20 microphones, and a live performance room at a radio station, what a concept.

Part III, trouble of a technical nature sets in:

Brave man, fear of heights is overcome because of his love of radio. I myself suffer from Phronemophobia, not in myself, but in other people.

So this series goes on for some, then… First, a Notice Of Unauthorized Operation (NOUO), then, A construction permit for a C1 station! Wow!

So, they are currently building out their station and putting up a tower. Check out 89.1 Ken’s FM-KNNZ and see how they are doing.  The call sign is KNNZ, licensed to Hawley, MN.  Real radio, alive and well in some places at least.

I wonder what kind of transmitter that is, I do not recognize it.

Good luck, guys.  I will have to check out the web stream, it sounds like fun.

Shortwave Pirate Broadcasting

And now, something completely different. It seems there is quite a kerfuffle going on in shortwave (AKA HF) pirate land.  It seems there has been some FCC enforcement action of late, leading to at least one HF pirate being closed down, while some others are pointing fingers at another saying he is a rat, or a rabbit.  Or something.  I dunno, it gets a little hard to follow.

Anyway…

I have written about this in the past; Pirate Shortwave broadcasting. It is a very interesting phenomena that compels a person to gather together all the parts necessary, usually at some expense, and assemble a station.  Further, keying the transmitter and broadcasting without benefit of a license is a violation of federal law, which can bring heavy sanctions.  While most pirate broadcasters seem to get a slap on the wrist, this lax FCC attitude can change.  There have been several steep fines lately for repeat offenders in the FM band.  At least on the FM band and somewhat the AM band too, a unlawful broadcaster is assured of some public audience.  On the shortwave bands, a pirate broadcaster’s audience is limited to only those that are looking for them, which is a very narrow segment of  the population.

What are they trying to accomplish?  Most of the shortwave pirate broadcasts that I have listened to are limited to a couple of songs from one particular genra, send an ID and then are off.  Some will send a QSL card via slow scan TV.   What compels these operators to go through all the trouble for a few minutes of irregular operation?  Some of them have well equipped studios to go along with the transmitting equipment.  Then there is the clandestine nature of the undertaking, often with mail drops and spoofed e-mail addresses.

Some seem to exult  in sticking it to the man, that man being the FCC, big media corporations or any authority that tells them they are doing wrong.  Acts of civil disobedience against authority perceived (rightly or wrongly) as oppressive or evil.  Others seem to have some need to perform, no matter how small the audience may be.  Some are just fooling around and do it simply because they can. Finally, others like the challenge of building a low power shortwave transmitter from scratch and seeing it to through to it’s end.

If the so said station is broadcasting with any appreciable power, it will get noticed quickly and sooner or later, the FCC will pay a visit.  That is a foregone conclusion.  The FCC has quite a few new tricks up its sleeve when it comes to direction finding and RF finger printing.  That’s right, RF finger printing, it is exactly what it sounds like.  Super resolution HFDF eliminates the need for triangulation, multiple vehicles, and wasting a lot of time driving around neighborhoods trying to figure out which residence an illegal broadcaster is using.

While I understand the compulsion to broadcast free radio; the need to inform under served communities, the fact that what we used to rely on for information and news is gone, a once vibrant and exciting art form has been reduced to a hollow shell of its former self, however, we have not yet reached a Magna Carta moment. There are still some legal methods of getting the word out on radio, both conventional and shortwave.  International Broadcasting stations WBCQ and WRMI offer time brokered programming and are pretty liberal in the types of programs they accept.  Not all US shortwave broadcaster are thus, many allowing only religious programming.  Those shortwave stations have large coverage areas and existing audiences.  There are also may AM radio stations that will do block programming over the weekend, for a price, of course.  Then there is the possibility of setting up an internet station.  Eventually, the new Low Power FM (LPFM) rules will go into affect and interested groups will be able to apply for licenses in that service.

The point is, while the deck is stacked against the local or community radio broadcaster, it is still possible to get the word out in a legal way.  The cost of buying block programming will likely be the same or less than buying all the equipment to set up a pirate station.  Further, if the programming is compelling, you may get noticed and be able to flip the equation and actually get paid to do it.