Anti-drone jammers marketed on Google, Amazon despite being outlawed

“Unlike other radio transmitting equipment, jamming equipment cannot be authorized by the FCC because the main purpose of jamming equipment is to interfere with radio communications,” the website says

Robert McDowell, a former FCC commissioner, said any device that jams radio frequencies is illegal per se unless an authorized federal agency is the one using it. 

“Jammers are illegal because they could be used for nefarious purposes and cause chaos,” he said. 

McDowell, now a partner at the Cooley law firm, said there’s legal risk both in importing and in selling such devices. Customs officers at ports of entry may impound them or the FCC may act, he said. 

“Retailers can be in trouble if they’re selling devices that are not authorized by the FCC,” he said. 

Maverick, though, is not alone. On Amazon, nine independent sellers recently offered “jammer” devices for sale for as little as $25.63, according to searches by NBC News. The product listings said they could be used for a variety of situations, including interfering with microphones. 

All nine sellers described themselves as based in China. In messages to NBC News, several said they had no information to share beyond what was on the product pages. One seller sent a message confirming that they would ship the “jammer” to California, writing, “US customers can buy it.” 

NBC News did not purchase or test any of the devices and has not independently verified whether the products being delivered are accurately described by the marketing.

Some of the Amazon product listings suggested that radio frequency jammers were a part of everyday life rather than a highly regulated product. One said: “The blocker is easy to operate and can be used immediately after startup, suitable for confidential meeting, business negotiation, school, hospital, research and development center, etc.” 

Some Amazon customers appeared to be suspicious of the listings. Some wrote in reviews that the products were simple white-noise machines overhyped as jammers. At least one person flagged a device as illegal. 

“Illegal device …hey FCC,” one customer wrote in a review last month. 

All nine product listings disappeared from Amazon within two days after NBC News contacted the Seattle-based retailer. Amazon confirmed in an email that its policies prohibit jamming devices and said it continuously monitors its marketplace to prevent third-party sellers from listing banned products. Amazon did not offer an explanation for how the nine sellers got past the company’s monitoring. 

On eBay, three different sellers recently had products listed for sale as jammers. A spokesperson for eBay said the company looked into the products and determined they were lawful white-noise machines or similar audio blockers, not FCC-prohibited radio signal jammers. 

“eBay is committed to maintaining a safe and vibrant community by ensuring goods sold on our platform are safe and legal,” the company said in a statement. 

Searches on Google’s shopping site returned links to dozens of devices marketed as signal jammers including anti-drone devices. Google does not handle the sales itself but instead directs shoppers to third-party sellers such as China-based electronics retailers. The retailers generally say they can ship to the United States, and their marketing materials aren’t specific to military or law enforcement uses. One China-based seller posted a video on Google-owned YouTube demonstrating how its product would block mobile phone signals. 

A spokesperson for Google said the company had reviewed examples that NBC News shared and was in the process of removing listings that violated its policies against the sale or promotion of such devices. 

Sometimes it’s not clear who is behind online sellers. One retailer calls itself a “professional global signal jammer manufacturer online jammer store” but does not disclose its location. It did not respond to a request for comment. The frequently asked questions section of its website includes this exchange: 

“Will Customs Confiscate My Package?” 

“So far, we have not encountered this situation.” 

It’s not known how many people may have unlawfully purchased radio frequency jammers from the various websites reviewed by NBC News. At least some of the companies say they sell to customers outside the U.S., where the strict regulations of the FCC do not apply. 

At the opposite end of the market for radio signal jammers are military suppliers, government contractors and other companies that generally do not aim their products at consumers. Many of these companies have websites marketing their products, but they do not list a price or provide an option to buy immediately. Instead, they list an option to “request consultation” or “connect with an expert.” 

The FCC declined to comment on specific websites or marketing materials. A spokesperson pointed to the commission’s standing advisories about enforcement and to a 2020 federal interagency advisory specific to drone defense. 

There was a time when the FCC cracked down severely on radio frequency jammers and their sale online. In 2016, the commission said it fined an online Chinese retailer, CTS Technology, $34.9 million for marketing hundreds of models of illegal jammers over two years and selling some to undercover FCC staff. 

There has been no comparable case since then, although other Chinese retailers are still marketing radio frequency jammers to Americans online, according to an NBC News review of their websites. NBC News could not determine if any of them had shipped to the U.S. 

The FCC has also targeted buyers in years past. In 2018, the FCC said it fined a Dallas warehouse operator $22,000 for using a jammer to prevent employees from being on their phones at work. In 2016, the commission said it fined a Florida man $48,000 for using a jamming device on his daily commute to keep people in other vehicles from talking on their cellphones. In 2014, Marriott agreed to pay $600,000 to settle allegations that it was jamming non-Marriott Wi-Fi signals at a Nashville, Tennessee, property. 

Dale Hatfield, a former chief engineer at the FCC, said the FCC’s priorities have shifted over the years to other topics such as fighting robocalls. 

“Their enforcement activity seems to be more directed to those things that consumers see more directly,” he said. 

Hatfield, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, said it’s difficult to determine how much of a problem illegal jammers are because signal interference is often brief and difficult to document. And for the same reason, he said, jamming cases are difficult for the FCC to take on. 

“It can be very intermittent,” he said. “How do you go back and figure out what the cause was?” 

McDowell, the former FCC commissioner, said that the commission’s enforcement is largely driven by the types of complaints it receives. 

“Usually the enforcement process works when an outside party brings a situation to the FCC’s attention,” he said. 

Jamming devices have many potential uses, from confusing an unwanted drone to disrupting a Wi-Fi network to disabling a doorbell camera. On a Reddit message board dedicated to Ring doorbell cameras, some posters complain that people are using jammers to knock out their cameras and avoid detection while stealing. One Reddit poster said it was ironic that Amazon appeared to be profiting from both sides: Ring is a division of Amazon, while Amazon is also a marketplace for buying devices that may disable Ring cameras. 

Amazon did not respond to a question about jamming Ring devices. 

Jammers or radio frequency “shields” are also a frequent topic of discussion in online forums dedicated to people who believe that the government or others are singling them out for in-depth surveillance, a belief or phenomenon sometimes known as “gangstalking.” 

The potential market for anti-drone systems such as radio frequency jammers includes large corporations and organizations that are worried about drone terrorism but are not legally allowed to use jammers. In a letter last year to congressional leaders, four major sports leagues including the NFL urged Congress to allow state and local law enforcement to use counter-drone capabilities. 

Prison officials in some states have said they’d like legal authority to use jammers to halt cellphone use by inmates. 

But under current law, the list of government agencies with authority to buy and use radio frequency jammers is short, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Energy and Defense departments. 

Companies that specialize in drone countermeasures often have their eye on foreign buyers. 

IXI Electronic Warfare, a drone defense company, warns on its website that drones are a potential threat to sports stadiums, prisons and airports, and it says it can help to “neutralize threats in seconds” including with a radio frequency jammer that it calls Dronekiller. But in general, stadium operators, prisons and airport authorities don’t have the legal authority to buy such a product in the U.S. 

“Most of our focus is overseas as regulations that you are aware of are much more relaxed,” the California-based company said in an email. It said it does offer sales in the U.S. but only to authorized federal agencies. 

The idea that such devices might spread in the U.S. is concerning to some experts in anti-drone countermeasures. 

Zachary Kallenborn, an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan policy organization in Washington, said that radio frequency jammers have the potential to interfere with an endless list of sensitive systems from civilian flight control to hospital communications. 

“It makes sense for them to be cautious about letting these things loose,” he said. 

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