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Suppose I'm using an amateur radio transceiver in my car. I'm not breaking any traffic laws, but I am talking in a secret code, which is illegal under the FCC regulations. Can a state or city police officer pull me over and detain me or write a ticket for my violation of the FCC regulations?

I'm using amateur radio as an example, but the question applies to any part of the Code of Federal Regulations.

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    Mind posting a link to the regulation? I am curious. Also, how might a local traffic cop detect the infraction? Jan 17, 2023 at 2:34
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    @MichaelHall it's 47 CFR 97.113(a)(4) law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/97.113 . I doubt they would notice it, but it's theoretically possible that the police officer had an amateur receiver in his/her car, or that the ham operator's transmissions were audible on the radio in the police car. (I've received police signals on my 2 meter radio set to a local ham repeater's frequency, so I wouldn't be surprised if the opposite has happened at some point.)
    – Someone
    Jan 17, 2023 at 2:43
  • Thanks. Interesting, but I wouldn't interpret "encoded" to mean using secret words. By definition it generally means transforming spoken language into a digital code. I doubt that if you and I decided that transmitting "red wagon" means meet me at the tavern for a beer in an hour that the Feds would really care. Jan 17, 2023 at 3:29
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    @MichaelHall It's not really much different from encrypting digital communications, which AFAIK is the main intended subject of that part. Dictionary.com defines "encode" as "to convert (a message, information, etc.) into code." and "code" as "a system used for brevity or secrecy of communication, in which arbitrarily chosen words, letters, or symbols are assigned definite meanings." If we agree that "red wagon" = "meet at the tavern in an hour" so other people don't understand us, we are assigning a definite meaning to arbitrary words for secrecy of our communications and with intent to...
    – Someone
    Jan 17, 2023 at 3:35
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    ...obscure the meaning. I doubt the FCC would really care that much, but I think they would probably win the case if they did care.
    – Someone
    Jan 17, 2023 at 3:35

1 Answer 1

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A state or local law enforcement officer cannot enforce federal laws unless the officer has been deputized by the federal government to do so.

State and local law enforcement officers are sometimes deputized to enforce federal law, but this would almost never be done in the case of FCC regulations.

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    Thank you! I think this is the fastest I've ever received an answer to an SE question.
    – Someone
    Jan 17, 2023 at 2:32
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    There are (sadly) a number of cases where localities have tried to pre-empt the FCC around amateur radio operations, particularly around antenna installations. A local government does not have that authority (although an HOA can, with various proposals in Congress to override that).
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 17, 2023 at 14:36
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    @JonCuster Policing antenna installations might not have much to do with communications, but rather building codes, which are definitely within the purview of state and local authorities.
    – Spencer
    Jan 18, 2023 at 17:50
  • @Spencer - which still need to not run afoul of Federal regulations (which does occur, mainly because the locality does not know or perhaps understand the requirements).
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 18, 2023 at 18:20

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