FCC Bypasses Issuing a Warning and Proposes $32,000 Forfeiture to Individual User of a GPS Jammer
In a departure from its earlier cases involving the unlawful use by individuals of Global Positioning System (“GPS”) jamming devices, the Commission last Friday issued a Notice of Apparent Liability and Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing fines totaling $31,875 to an individual violator. Gary Bojczak told the FCC that he had deployed the jamming device in question in his company-supplied pickup truck to block the GPS-based vehicle tracking system that his employer had installed in the vehicle. The Commission found that Mr. Bojczak had violated at least three sections of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and two FCC rule provisions by transmitting without a license or other instrument of authorization, using equipment that was not authorized, and interfering with authorized communications.
This action, released August 2, 2013, represents the first of which we are aware where the Commission imposed a fine on an individual user of a GPS jammer. As we reported in late 2012, in recent years, the FCC’s investigations and enforcement matters against unauthorized marketing and use of GPS blockers, cellphone jammers, and similar equipment led principally to citations without monetary penalties, as well as to enforcement advisories for the general public. We anticipated then that the Commission might soon find reason to issue substantial forfeitures for illegal operation of such devices, especially where facts are present demonstrating either, one, that large corporations are utilizing such unauthorized devices or, two, that 9-1-1 or other emergency communications are being subjected to interference.
In April 2013, the Commission found the first set of circumstances in the case of two sizeable corporations, The Supply Room, Inc. and Taylor Oilfield Manufacturing, Inc., operating cell phone jammers. The Commission issued NALs against each corporation in excess of $125,000.
The present NAL is an instance of the second set of circumstances. In proposing the almost-$32,000 forfeiture against Mr. Bojczak (which Mr. Bojczak can seek to have the agency reduce or cancel), the Commission expressed clear concern about interference to navigational equipment designed to promote public safety. The device in question was found by Enforcement Bureau staff to be operating in the vicinity of, and presumably causing interference to, a ground-based augmentation system (“GBAS”) operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at Newark Liberty International Airport and used to support precision approaches by aircraft, departure procedures, and terminal area operations.
Several aspects of the Commission’s calculation of the proposed forfeitures bear mention. First, the Commission once again used the maximum per violation per day forfeiture amounts of $16,000 for using unauthorized equipment and, separately, for operating without a license or other authorization. (Jammers, the FCC underscored, are per se unlawful.) Second, the Commission increased the base forfeiture amount for interference of $7,000 by 50% because of the safety-oriented nature of the GBAS operations to which Mr. Bojczak’s device is alleged to have caused interference. Third, the Commission reduced the overall proposed forfeiture amount by 25% because the violator cooperated with, and voluntarily relinquished his equipment to, Bureau personnel. The FCC, as a final comment and signaling what appears to be an ongoing evolution and toughening of its enforcement approach to jammers, noted that in future cases, it may pursue “alternative or more aggressive sanctions” – including referral to the Department of Justice for possible criminal action – if remedies like the one proposed in the Bojczak NAL do not deter future similar violations.