When the FCC Makes an Offer You Can’t Refuse

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The Fourth of July is receding in the rearview mirror – and so is the idea that the government ought to be obliged to prove guilt before applying punishment.FCC pic

Did you know the IRS can seize your assets without having gone to the trouble of proving you violated any law? Same goes for street cops – who have been empowered under war-on-some-drugs asset forfeiture laws to simply take any “excessive” (as defined by them) cash they find on your person in the course of a traffic stop.

In both both cases, it’s up to us prove the money was not acquired as the result of “illegal” activity – reversing a once-basic tenet of American law that said a person is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty.

And now the Federal Communications Commission.

This agency – through its Enforcement Bureau – has somehow acquired the power to issue what amount to secular fatwas called Notices of Apparent Liability (NALs).

Note the word “apparent.”

As opposed to actual.

These are not merely accusations that a law has allegedly been violated. They are assertions by the FCC that a law has been violated – without any due process. And just like that, you are presumed guilty.

The “violator” is then told what his punishment will be.

Magnanimously, the FCC – like the cop who simply took your money or the IRS agent that seized your bank account – gives its victims the “opportunity” to “file a response” after the fact – which the FCC can ignore in whole or part.red queen

There are no rules of evidence; no courtroom proceeding, no burden of proof placed on the FCC to establish guilt.

The FCC has merely to assert guilt and that’s it.

It can also threaten to issue the NAL – and use that threat as leverage to obtain a consent decree from the target. Consent degrees are agreements made under duress to do as the government demands.

Or else.

In this case, the FCC typically demands an “appropriate voluntary financial contribution to the U.S. Treasury.” See here.

Italics added.

“Voluntary”… like the “contributions” you make to Social Security.

This is the FCC playing the part of Luca Brasi in the Godfather movie. You may remember the famous scene. Luca Brasi is Don Corleone’s enforcer. The Don wanted a Hollywood director to sign a contract and had Luca Brasi assure the man that “either his brains or his signature” would be on the contract.

The man signed the contract.Queen 2

The FCC is not perceived by the general public as a thug outfit – if it is even perceived at all. Few people even know what it does. And yet it wields tremendous power, much of it arbitrary and unaccountable. The power to issue these creepy NALs, for one. And the power to coerce compliance using threats rather than due process being two.

Recently, the FCC used its mafia powers to go after four telecom providers it accused of “apparent” skullduggery. These companies – OneLink Communications, TeleDias Communications, TeleUno and Cytel – apparently engaged in two unlawful practices, “slamming” (switching long distance carriers without notice, kind of like when your mortgage loan gets sold to another lender) and “cramming” (adding extra charges to the customer’s phone bill).

The FCC is demanding $29.6 million in “voluntary contributions to the U.S. Treasury” from these telecoms.

Whether these companies are guilty of “slamming” and “cramming” their customers isn’t the point.

The point is they’ve not been convicted of either thing. Merely accused – and coerced.

This sets a dangerous precedent.

Worse, actually, because it is practice.

This isn’t a cowboy operation run by an Ollie North type within the FCC, contrary to the law. It is the FCC acting according to the law. A law – laws – that should be reconsidered.luca brasi

No matter how actually guilty targets in a particular case may be, if they have been denied due process, coerced, intimidated and then punished without the niceties of the accusing government agency having had to prove guilt first, the same could happen to not-guilty targets just as easily.

That ought to scare anyone half awake and half bright.

Keep in mind as well that the FCC is a political bureaucracy, staffed by people with agendas – and even vendettas. You do not want to find yourself targeted by a powerful bureaucrat with the resources of the federal government at his disposal – and under no legal obligation to prove you did a thing against the law before he may sic his enforcers on you.

The IRS does this, street cops do it – and now you know the FCC does it, too.

The more common this sort of thing becomes, the more the country becomes indistinguishable from banana republics, where if they want your money they simply take your money and that’s it. Where official corruption is much more to be feared than the transgressions of private individuals and companies – who do not have the muscle of the state backing them up.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Just wait until the FCC starts “policing” the internet.

    It’s how the general public will be shown the exit, like it was with radio a hundred years ago.

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