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Feature: 1998=1984?

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12/3/98

An interesting little email has cropped up among microradio activists recently.

It stems from the recent bust and arrest of the operators of Black Cat Radio in Memphis, TN. The station ops weren't arrested for the actual act of unlicensed broadcasting, but rather for jacking into the University of  Memphis' electrical system to to power their transmitter as they broadcast from a parking garage on campus.

The email allegedly came from the U.S. Department of Justice, and it's reproduced in its entirety below:

From: Public Information <Public.Information@usdoj.gov>
To: ......
Date: Wednesday, December 2, 1998, 10:29 PM
Subject: Free Radio Memphis
----------
PUBLIC INFORMATION ONLY:
A person who knowingly donates money or equipment to an unlicensed radio station so that it may continue to broadcast without a license could be guilty of aiding and abetting the violation of a federal law, to wit: Title 47 United States Code, Section 301.  Such a person is deemed by law to be just as guilty as the operators of the unlicensed radio station.  (See, 18 U.S.C.. 2)    Aiding and abetting a violation of 47 U.S.C.301 is punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of up to $10,000.00 or both. (See, 47 U.S.C. 301)

The preceding is provided for information only.  It is up to the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee to decide whether to seek prosecution in any specific case.

According to this message, those that may have supported Free Radio Memphis in any way could also be found guilty of breaking the law, even if they did not actually conduct a broadcast. 

Most are taking it as a hoax. The email address hasn't been verified, and there wasn't enough header information in the original copy of the message to draw an accurate conclusion as to just where it originated. It's relatively easy for someone to fake an email address (and much of the header information) to give a message such as this the air of legitimacy.

Some have debunked the message by likening support of free radio to support for the legalization of marijuana. However, there's a large distinction between the two causes.  While "mainstream" pro-marijuana groups like NORML advocate the legalization of cannabis, they don't actively or publicly traffic in the drug, and nobody will publicly claim to possess any. In that way, supporters of the group can't be prosecuted because NORML isn't actively breaking the law (through possession or distribution). They're not actively engaging in an illegal act.

But, as the law currently stands, unlicensed radio stations are actively breaking the law, and hence their supporters could be considered as "aiding and abetting."

The idea that the federal government would stoop to such a low is ludicrous yet chilling.

It's 1998 with shades of 1984.  Instead of prosecuting just those in active rebellion, the government wants to prosecute those that agree with such a rebellion.