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FEDS RAID ELECTRONIC HOBBY VENDORS
Posted 18 Dec 1999 00:00:00 UTC

2600 has learned that several small electronic hobbyist vendors were recently raided by federal agents brandishing semiautomatic weapons. News of these raids has been kept out of the media and many of those involved fear retribution if they openly discuss the case. Until now, these companies had operated for years selling harmless educational electronic kits (like wireless microphones) to students, hobbyists, ham radio operators, and hackers. Now their inventories are being seized at gunpoint--and their owners could be facing bankruptcy and prison time.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice is apparently re-interpreting federal wiretapping and smuggling laws to include small hobby radio transmitters. Even possessing so-called "Mr. Microphone" type toys can now put hobbyists at risk of looking down the barrel of a federal agent's loaded gun, a felony conviction, federal prison time, loss of property, and legal fees into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Ramsey Electronics and Super Circuits are just two of the companies recently raided at gunpoint. Both have good and longstanding reputations for selling inexpensive, quality educational kits and components to electronics hobbyists for many years through ads in electronic hobby magazines and their websites.

A high-ranking Justice Dept. official told one of the business owners the orders for these raids are politically motivated and originated from a very high level in the Clinton administration as a result of the Linda Tripp wiretapping case. "They just need convictions," the official said.

Earlier this year the Justice Dept. indicted Bill Cheek, the well-known and loved author of books on radio scanner modifications and Monitoring Times column writer. Bill was selling very simple "data-slicer" circuits (made from parts available at any Radio Shack) that could be used with a PC and a scanner to monitor radio data transmissions--including unencrypted police mobile data terminal (MDT) transmissions. Even after Bill had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the Federal government refused to back off, even issuing a summons to court on the same day he was to begin chemotherapy.

In 1995 2600's BernieS was locked up in five different maximum-security prisons over 14 months by the Secret Service for possessing his laptop computer, his software, and ordinary electronic parts available at Radio Shack. He had been distributing parts, software, books, and pamphlets about cellular and coin telephones. The Justice Department's final investigation report stated "There were no victims in the offense."

This is a clear pattern of harassment and abuse of power by our Federal government against people teaching others about electronic communications. It appears our government doesn't want people to know this information. 2600 strongly feels this knowledge is important for people to have, and will continue spreading it at every opportunity. Write and call your legislators to complain about this injustice. You could be next!

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