Now Cantennas Are Illegal Too? Why Don't They Just Outlaw WiFi?

from the says-who-exactly? dept

Is it really so much to ask to have people who are making and enforcing laws concerning technology actually understand the technology they're dealing with? Following the series of recent arrests of people for using open WiFi networks, the definition of illegal equipment is being stretched. In the UK arrest, the guy was arrested for "possessing equipment for fraudulent use of a communications service," which all of us who have WiFi in our laptops probably are guilty of. At least that's just in the UK. Over here in the US it's apparently still legal to have WiFi equipment -- but if you dare try to boost your signal with an antenna, watch out. According to the head of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force, the popular "cantenna" device is completely illegal. For those who don't know, someone a while back worked out that you could boost the range of your WiFi router with a Pringle's can. It requires a bit of work, so a small operation sprung up to sell Cantennas. They're quite popular with people who want to spread WiFi around a house where the basic router won't reach certain parts of it. Hell, even CompUSA sells them! But, according to this "high tech" police officer: "They're unsophisticated but reliable, and it's illegal to possess them." The article includes a story about how the police arrested a high school student for breaking into his school's network to change his grades and they (gasp!) found a cantenna in his room! Again, the crime he committed has nothing to do with having an antenna booster, but that doesn't stop the reporter and the cop from talking about the evils of connecting to WiFi networks.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 4:06am

    No Subject Given

    They probably are illegal under Part 15 FCC regulations, but I find it highly unlikely that that there is a California law regarding them. Seems to me just another blowhard cop trying to cause a panic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    z0idberg, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 8:19am

    no terrorists?

    the only amazing thing about this article is that there was no mention of how terrorists could use cantennas to communicate with each other so they must be outlawed.
    or perhaps how they could be used to view *GASP* pornography!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Bob Dole, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 8:30am

    Re: No Subject Given

    Local police have no jurisdiction to enforce Part 15 FCC rules. (Assuming they even know what that means)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Zoter, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 9:52am

    Part 15

    Yup - they are, technicly, illegal.

    Wi-Fi gear operates under Part 15 of the FCC rules. Those rules state you can't modify or use any antenna that isn't 'accepted'. Acceptance is a procedure the manufactures jump through. So adding an after market or home brewed antenna is a violation of part 15.

    So is using any kind of external ammplifier.

    There's a lot more to Part 15 - but those are the biggies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Hero, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 10:25am

    Re: Part 15

    So is using any kind of external ammplifier.
    Unless it's approved for the use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Bill Moore, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 10:25am

    Cantenna Possession a Crime

    I wonder if there is actually an ordnance on the books outlawing "cantennas" or if this officer was just speaking from a hidden orifice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Hero, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 10:27am

    Why Don't They Just Outlaw WiFi?

    Don't say that too loudly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Atmos42, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 10:56am

    Re: Part 15

    According to Wireless Garden's website, maker of the Cantenna:

    Is it legal to use your Cantenna?

    Yes, our Cantennas and Pigtails have been tested and comply with part 15 of the FCC rules. Make sure other wireless devices that you use also comply. Compliance with FCC regulations is your responsibility. Check with your Internet Service Providers to find out if they permit sharing of their Internet connections.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Zotter, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 11:14am

    Re: Part 15

    Uh, in-spite of what the Cantenna sellers say on their web site - take a look at what the FCC says on the subject.

    See Page 2 - Antenna Requirements

    Changing the antenna on a transmitter can significantly increase, or decrease, the strength of the signal that is ultimately transmitted. Except for cable locating equipment, the standards in Part 15 are not based solely on output power but also take into account the antenna characteristics. Thus, a low power transmitter that complies with the technical standards in Part 15 with a particular antenna attached can exceed the Part 15 standards if a different antenna is attached. Should this happen it could pose a serious interference problem to authorized radio communications such as emergency, broadcast and air-traffic control communications.

    In order to prevent such interference problems, each Part 15 transmitter must be designed to ensure that no type of antenna can be used with it other than the one used to demonstrate compliance with the technical standards. This means that Part 15 transmitters must have permanently attached antennas, or detachable antennas with unique connectors. A "unique connector" is one that is not of a standard type found in electronic supply stores.
    (Section 15.203)

    It is recognized that suppliers of Part 15 transmitters often want their customers to be able to replace an antenna if it should break. With this in mind, Part 15 allows transmitters to be designed so that the user can replace a broken antenna. When this is done, the replacement antenna must be electrically identical to the antenna that was used to obtain FCC authorization for the transmitter. The replacement antenna also must include the unique connector described above to ensure it is used with the proper transmitter.

    Now, what it sounds like the cantenna sellers may be saying is their device, being by itself - well, basicly useless, is compliant with part 15. They could just as easily say it's compliant with almost any rule - cuz it does nothing. It also absolves them of liability if a user gets 'caught'.

    Remember - you can't certify an antenna or a pig tail. You certify an end user transmitter - complete with feedline and antenna.

    But then, maybe the sellers are using the 'blanket' standard of what a Wi-fi transmitter is and ensure their gear will stay within compliance with any and every Wi-fi transmitter available.

    And then, there's the actual 'risk of getting caught', wich is so low as to hardly be worth mentioning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    NC, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 12:40pm

    Cantenna is not illegal.

    I haven't read any of the other comments on this article, but all anyone needs to do to determine the legality of the cantenna is read the FCC Part 15 rules on operation in license-exempt spectrum. Local law enforcement has no right to determine someone's guilt based on the posession of an antenna. If posessing a cantenna is illegal, then any other antenna permitted by FCC standards would be illegal too. The only way a cantenna would be illegal is if someone was using it to interfere with someone else's licensed network. As we all know, wi-fi operates in unlicensed spectrum. It is the responsibility of the owner of the network to properly secure it and understand that others can interfere with it and receive their signal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    stix, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Part 15

    Uh, adding a modified antenna effectively makes it an "experimental/homebrew/one-off system" something that part 15 specificly alows. it does however transfer the responsibility for compliance to the user and depending on the antenna it may or not be compliant.
    either way, while use may be prohibited possesion never is, so this cop is obviously talking with the wrong end of his anatomy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 4:37pm

    Re: no terrorists?

    don't you mean *GASP* child pornography!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Robert, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 7:32pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Only in violation of the FCC regulation if you do not hold a technician class or higher amateur radio license when you use it (I don't think there's a lawa against owning an antenna). If you hold a license, you are permitted to build and operate equipment near that band, and at much higher transmitted power levels than FCC maximum for part 15 devices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Lanzaa, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 8:13pm

    Re: Part 15

    [Code of Federal Regulations]
    [Title 47, Volume 1]
    [Revised as of October 1, 2004]
    From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
    [CITE: 47CFR15.23]

    [Page 758]



    PART 15_RADIO FREQUENCY DEVICES--Table of Contents

    Subpart A_General

    Sec. 15.23 Home-built devices.

    (a) Equipment authorization is not required for devices that are not
    marketed, are not constructed from a kit, and are built in quantities of
    five or less for personal use.
    (b) It is recognized that the individual builder of home-built
    equipment may not possess the means to perform the measurements for
    determining compliance with the regulations. In this case, the builder
    is expected to employ good engineering practices to meet the specified
    technical standards to the greatest extent practicable. The provisions
    of Sec. 15.5 apply to this equipment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 8:31pm

    Recomment WEP?

    I like the fact that they recomend WEP for security. That will hold up for what 10min if someone really wants to get in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    matt, Jul 26th, 2005 @ 12:36am

    No Subject Given

    i'll call BULLSHIT

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    jmm, Jul 26th, 2005 @ 12:52am

    Re: No Subject Given

    I wonder how close we are to having licenses. I mean we have them for cars, houses, heavy equipment, school bus drivers. why not a wireless license? or an IP license? it would help cops, or tech cops. is there such a thing? hmmm any ideas?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2005 @ 6:03am

    Re: Recomment WEP?

    it'll not keep then out of the network, but it WILL stop them sniffing what you're sending.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    mike-ish, Jul 26th, 2005 @ 11:19am

    Re: No Subject Given

    they'll have boater's licenses long before then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Mongocrush, Jul 26th, 2005 @ 2:55pm

    part 15

    I'm a little confused about that part 15. Would the can part be considered part of the antenna? I mean all it really does is direct where the signals from the antenna goes. It doesn't really increase the signal it just directs where the signal goes and then you will have more signals going in the right direction instead of being wasted going 360degrees. Am I completely crazy, or on the correct path with this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Dragon, Jul 26th, 2005 @ 6:32pm

    Re: Part 15

    I remember the C.B. laws...
    Those didnt go over to well either...
    In the 70's everyone had one and hardly anyone had a permit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    den christen, Jul 31st, 2005 @ 6:51pm


    give up more civil liberties so king george can completly destroy and decimate all access to the activities of this police government currently in power in the USA

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    anonymous coward, Aug 1st, 2005 @ 7:44pm

    Not illegal according to another Sac. High Tech Cr

    I attended a security conference in Sacramento last week, and another member of the Sacramento High Tech Crime Force said the cantenna was NOT illegal, and said the lieutenant took quite a bit of razzing internally for making the comment, but also said the newspaper took the comment out of context.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Sol, Aug 2nd, 2005 @ 1:04pm

    We Are Supposed to Bow Down... our all mighty government masters and their enforcers even if they are incompetents who have no idea what the hell they are talking about. Sometimes it appears their goal is to make us all criminals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    UKtheBunny, Aug 26th, 2005 @ 7:20am

    WIFI and Equipment

    It is not illegal to amplify your signal or use experimental equipment if you hold a valid HAM Radio License

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Fweep, Aug 29th, 2005 @ 11:19pm

    Re: Not illegal according to another Sac. High Tec

    Guy I know used to work for the SCSD's High-Tech unit, he reports that this Lt. Lozito is notorious for being a real douchebag.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    t('-'t), Aug 31st, 2005 @ 7:00pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    ok this has got to be the most retarted thing i have EVER heard yes its illagle to crack wep encrptions and change your grades but to go into a PUBLIC acses poiont is COMPLEATLEY leagil if its not encrypted then thiers no way in hell thay can press any charge aginst you and comeout on top. its not true your going to tell me that because a antena is home made its illagle antenas have benn around seince wifi and now justbecause some black hat fux decided to change his grades and a few other smartas crackers broke the law so what. thats a compleatly diffrent thing. this is so retarted i dont giva shit im not spending 400$ on something i can make in my house.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Brad, Oct 4th, 2005 @ 2:15pm

    Technician Class License

    Its not that hard to get a technician's license; its a good way to meet some of the ameture radio people in your area, cause they are the ones who administer the test. Plus its cool to have a call sign ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    A. George Gavalas, Feb 25th, 2006 @ 3:01pm

    FCC Part 15 states clearly

    The FCC states clearly that if ANY device, radio or antenna, is built at home without it being built from a kit, it is legal so long as no more than 5 are built, it doesn't impede against safety (i.e. doesn't interfere with a hospital or airport/airbase), and they aren't sold. If it is built from a kit, the kit has to adhere to part 15, but all cantenna kits in MAJOR stores do adhere to these rules. There is nothing illegal about an external antenna for broadcast or receiving. IN FACT, the fcc makes it clear that so long as it doesn't exceed 30 meters or infringe upon safety, it is the responsibility of the offended party, not the offending, to rectify the issue, whether it be to lock down their internet access, get more powerful antennas to provide access to themselves, or whatever other impedence someone may cause. Local law enforcement needs to become more educated on the laws as they stand. This is a grey area to most, but the law is basically the same in every state, not that which state matters. If they try to say using the bandwidth is illegal, then crossing state lines to view a website makes it a federal case bound by federal law. Under fedreal law, like physical property, if you don't post a no trespassing sign, you don't have a fence, and you don't ask them to leave, you can't arrest someone for being on your property so long as they don't take anything. Allowing them an ip address through your dhcp server and having no encryption or captive portal in place is legally granting them access to use your bandwidth under federal laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2006 @ 8:08am

    Re: Re: No Subject Given

    Learn how to spell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    dalebert, Oct 31st, 2006 @ 8:50am

    Re: part 15

    The FCC tests looking at the received signal levels. If you change the transmitter or antenna so the received signal is higher, then you are in violation.
    For several thousand bucks you can probably go to you local cerified lab and get your system certified.
    This will ensure you are sending harmonics on any of the 'forbidden bands' or interefering with other services. The regulations are meant to keep our country in compliance with the Geneva Convention (i.e., Federal laws). The fines can be quite steep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    cartossin, Jan 1st, 2007 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re: Recomment WEP?

    First of all, if they havent discovered your key through active or passive sniffing, it WILL keep them out of your network. However if they HAVE found your key, not only can they use your connection, but they CAN sniff what you are sending.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    cartossin, Jan 1st, 2007 @ 2:50am

    Re: WIFI and Equipment

    Or even if you don't! (making your statement pointless)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Jude, Mar 9th, 2007 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Re: No Subject Given

    I am 16 and own several wifi antennae. I have a HAM liscense. Getting a HAM liscense has never been easier! My advice is if you like wifi, get a HAM liscense. Get a book from ARRL at: . For practice tests go here: . After you continue scoring consistantly passing grades. Go take the HAM test and and have your liscence on the day of passing the test. Really not that much work or effort envolved!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Frank, Mar 22nd, 2007 @ 7:50am


    Outlaw antennas? The next thing you know they'll want to outlaw naked chainsaw juggling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    bubba, Jun 11th, 2007 @ 5:09pm


    I once spoke to Jesus on my cantnna. He said it was ok.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Big Brad, Oct 25th, 2007 @ 9:42am

    Corner Reflector Cantenna

    I've been building these units for a while..Not the typical cantenna. take a look, They work vey well, I'm not changing anything internally. They consider this illegal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anon, Aug 4th, 2015 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: No Subject Given

    Perhaps, but I have read that the portion of the wifi spectrum open to amateur radio has restriction on what you can transmit -- with encryption being banned, effectively (perhaps?) disallowing transmission of any HTTPS traffic? (not at all sure, really0

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2015 @ 1:12am

    It should be outlawed. It's death on humanity. Educate your self.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Charlie, Dec 20th, 2015 @ 1:19pm

    Wt about Hams?

    Are the antenna's radio HAMs use illegal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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