Today, Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Peter King (R-NY) announced a bill that would protect emergency responder radios from "radio jamming," or the deliberate disruption of radio signals. Reps. Israel and King were recently contacted by the Melville Fire Department after months of having their radios intermittently jammed. Current federal law classifies intentional radio jamming of emergency responder radios merely as a civil offense, meaning that the individual can only face a fine and is not subject to jail time. The legislation the congressmen are introducing would make the intentional jamming of radio frequencies used by first responders a criminal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, plus the existing civil penalties.
Rep. Israel said, "First responders put their lives on the line to protect New York families. In order to do so effectively, our emergency responders need to be able to communicate without interruption over their radios. Those who intentionally obstruct these radios, like the individual who was jamming the Melville Fire Department's radio, should face criminal penalties that go beyond just the fines that they face under current law. That's why I'm working with Rep. King to amend current law to make sure the punishment matches the severity of the crime.
Rep. King said, "This is critical not only to first responders but to all Long Islanders. It is imperative that emergency communication remains seamless. Those who seek to intentionally obstruct and put the lives of the community at risk need to be criminally punished. This legislation will do just that."
"On behalf of the Fire Service I want to thank Congressmen Steve Israel and Peter King for co-sponsoring this important legislation which will help protect our communications infrastructure," said Ex-Chief Michael Carrieri of the Melville Fire Department. Carrieri was Chief of Department in 2013 when hundreds of unauthorized transmissions were made on their primary operating frequencies.
"With advancements in technology, there needs to come advancements in the law," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber said. "The intentional disruption of communication service can be life-threatening and the penalties need to match the severity of the crime."
Radio jamming is the deliberate transmission of radio signals that disrupt communications. Under current federal law, those found guilty of intentional radio jamming are subject to a maximum civil penalty of up to $16,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, and as high as $112,500 for any single act. Currently the only time a criminal penalty can be invoked is if a perpetrator interferes with radio frequencies used for military or civil defense purposes. In this case, the perpetrators can face criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, in addition to civil penalties.
This past December, the Melville Fire Department contacted Reps. Israel and King to alert them that their radio had been intermittently obstructed by an individual for many months before they were able to catch the individual with the help of the Suffolk County Police Department and the Federal Communications Commission.
After learning of this incident and the dangers it poses to emergency responders, Reps. Israel and King drafted legislation, the Emergency Responder Radio Communications Protection Act, which would make the intentional jamming of radio frequencies used by first responders a criminal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, plus the existing civil penalties. The legislation will be introduced in Congress this week.