No Holiday Cheer for GPS Jammers
December 6, 2018 By: J. David Grossman, Executive Director, GPS Innovation Alliance
The holiday season is upon us. From smartwatches and fitness trackers to the latest smartphones and tablets, GPS-enabled technologies are sure to be gift-giving favorites.
We depend on these devices to make our lives easier and we do so knowing that GPS will always be there when we need it. That dependability is thanks, in no small part, to the strong stewardship of the system by the U.S. Air Force, which has designed and operated GPS to be continuously available, accurate, reliable and resilient. But it seems not everyone shares in the holiday cheer. There are some malicious actors who seek to disrupt or interfere with your use of GPS using what are known as “GPS jammers.”
GPS jammers can be as small as just a few inches in length and have the ability to block, jam or interfere with the GPS signal. As an official from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) once described, “Jammers do not just weed out noisy or annoying conversations and disable unwanted GPS tracking, they can prevent 911 and other emergency phone calls from getting through in a time of need.” GPS jammers can also impact aviation safety systems, as occurred in 2012 outside of Newark Liberty International Airport.
Thankfully, U.S. federal law not only prohibits the use of such jammers, but also makes it illegal to market, manufacture or sell them. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is tasked with enforcing these rules and takes its responsibility very seriously. If you are caught buying, selling or using a GPS jammer, it can mean stiff financial penalties, or even jail time. In 2016, for example, the FCC fined a company nearly $35 million for “marketing and selling signal jamming devices to U.S. consumers.”
What should you do if you see a GPS jammer being operated or sold? You can contact the FCC’s Consumer Complaint Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (or 1-888-225-5322). Be prepared to provide as many details as possible. Knowing the time and location of where a GPS jammer is being operated will help FCC staff in their investigation. You can also file a complaint with the FCC by visiting: www.fcc.gov/complaints.
Retailers also have a critical role to play in stopping the sale of illegal GPS jammers. You should familiarize yourself with the FCC’s rules and ensure that you are not selling or marketing GPS jammers, either online or in a physical store.
Still have further questions? The FCC’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on GPS, Wi-Fi, and Cell Phone Jammers has the answers. We are grateful for the dedicated professionals across the U.S. government who work 24/7 to ensure GPS is there when we need it. While they have a variety of tools at their disposal to ensure the continued resiliency of GPS, you too can make a difference. As you check off those “must have” items from the holiday shopping list, remember that your vigilance can help ensure all of our favorite GPS-enabled devices operate free of jammers.