Waiver that allows devices upheld over objections of communications company

Many of the body scanners popping up nowadays at airports (and in New Yorker cartoons) form an image by scanning with radio waves at very low power. Like most devices that use radio, the scanners come under FCC regulation. But the particular form of radio signal they use does not fit well into the relevant FCC rules. The device accordingly operates under an FCC waiver, which has been in effect for more than three years.

A few companies initially opposed the waiver, fearing that the scanner might cause interference to their radio-based communications systems. In response, the FCC imposed conditions on the waiver intended to minimize any likelihood of interference.

Still, one of the waiver opponents was not satisfied, and asked the FCC to reconsider the waiver grant. It argued that the FCC had underestimated the interference potential. In addition to the existing conditions, it said, the FCC should impose an additional half-dozen requirements – for example, that the location of each scanner be made public 30 days in advance, and that the opponent be able to shut down scanners preemptively at certain locations. None of these conditions had ever been asked of a waiver grantee, even in cases with far higher interference potential.

The FCC denied all of the requests, on the ground that the nature of the device, together with the existing waiver conditions, reduced the risk of interference enough to make further precautions unnecessary. Chairman Genachowski noted the agency’s “important role in promoting the development of innovative technologies to ensure the safety of the public.” The FCC did reiterate that scanner users must eliminate any interference that occurs. And it reminded the manufacturer of its obligation to maintain its own list of locations at which scanners are installed, and to keep the list updated as units are moved and sold.

Step in, please. Raise your arms. Have a good flight. Next.