According to a 2014 Enforcement Advisory, cell phone and Wi-Fi jamming by state and local law enforcement is illegal by federal law. And yet, persistent allegations of jamming are coming from Water Protectors at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. Any jamming by law enforcement to monitor protestor cell phone communications is a serious breach of their Fourth Amendment rights as it amounts to unreasonable search and seizure. First Amendment rights of freedom of speech are also compromised when the method of transmitting reports is purposely blocked.
In order to pressure the FCC to determine whether jamming is happening in North Dakota, MoveOn.org has posted an online petition. From the petition:
Proving or disproving allegations about jamming is very difficult for anyone except the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. Only the FCC can work with wireless providers, protesters, and local law enforcement to find out definitively what’s going on. The FCC is the only expert agency with authority to require law enforcement to disclose their use of any wireless devices and the only agency with the expertise to assess what is actually happening. If the FCC investigates and finds that there is no illegal jamming happening, then it can settle this concern. If the FCC discovers that there is illegal jamming happening, it has an obligation to expose the jamming and use its power under federal law to order local law enforcement to stop interfering with First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
As Harold Feld writes in his recent blog article, that the presence of IMSI catchers or Stingrays, leaves signs that the Water Protectors are experiencing at Standing Rock - sudden loss of a strong signal at inopportune times, cell phone batteries depleting quickly and inexplicably. Cell phones not only allow them to communicate with each other, but allow them to document law enforcement reaction:
In particular, the ability to upload streaming media documenting confrontations with authorities has been critical in proving whether local authorities have reacted with disproportionate violence or have acted appropriately. As a result, some law enforcement folks really hate that protesters use cell phones. Rather than solve the problem by modifying their own behavior, some law enforcement folks would much rather prevent protesters from using cell phones effectively.
Feld points out that the FCC is the only agency with the expertise and ability to resolve the allegations. If there is no jamming taking place, only they can restore confidence in the belief that local law enforcement is not breaking the law in that respect. If they are acting illegally, it is up to the FCC to stop it and to hold them accountable:
It falls to the FCC to protect that right and ensure the trust we put in our democracy. The FCC should not hesitate to send Enforcement Bureau staff to Standing Rock to find out what is really happening to wireless at #NoDAPL.