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The Feds' Ramsey Electronics Raid Blow by Blow

emmett posted more than 14 years ago | from the straight-from-the-horse's-mouth dept.

The Courts 696

On November 10th 1999, Ramsey Electronics of Victor, New York, was raided by the United States Customs Service for allegedly manufacturing and distributing 'Electronic Surreptitious Intercept Devices' as defined by Title 18 USC, Section 2512. We spoke to both Ramsey Electronics President John Ramsey and Joel Violanti, the federal prosecutor on the case, to find out exactly what happened, and why. (Click below for more.)

The Raid

On the morning of November 10th, radio equipment manufacturer Ramsey Electronics was raided by the United States Customs Service by officers with a search warrant. In addition to building radio testing equipment, Ramsey Electronics is also a well-known vendor of electronic hobby kits used by organizations like the Boy Scouts of America. Like an action movie drug-bust, agents moved in at 10 a.m. to search and seize over $30,000 worth of Ramsey Electronics inventory. Company President John Ramsey offered this play-by-play of that morning's events:

They had already been here almost an hour when I walked in. I [had been] at the bank. When I came back in, I saw my controller, Ed VanVoorhis and his face was white as a ghost. There were these two guys wearing suits standing on each side of him. He told me that these guys were from the government and they were here with a search warrant. Then the agents took over; they pretty much bullied me down the hallway and into my office. I went to go sit at my desk, and they said 'No. you sit over here,' pointing to a couch in my office. The two of them proceeded to rattle off a lot of mumble jumble like Title 18 USC Section 2512 and other numbers, flashing badges and being surrealistically intimidating. I'm looking at my accountant. I have never seem him like this. The [agents] are verbally batting me back and forth, and I'm like, 'Hey, what's going on?' They proceeded to tell me that they were executing a search warrant to find goods that were in violation of section 2512, and they shove this four or five page search warrant in my face.

They said that they were here to find stuff that violated section 2512 and I said, 'Like our wireless FM mic kits?' The one [agent] gave me his card, and I noticed that he was from Buffalo, an hour and a half away. I said, 'you two guys came all the way here from Buffalo?' and he said, 'No. There's seven of us.' Then he said, 'If you don't cooperate with us, we'll shut you down. We'll lock the doors, send all the employees home, we'll go through all of your inventory, records, customer lists and computers. We'll go through your computers bit-by-bit. We have experts that do that, and we don't care if it takes months.' I was escorted out to the production and shipping areas, which they had pretty much commandeered. All the doors had 8 1/2 x 11 pieces of paper taped on them with a large handwritten letter on them - like A, B and C. There was a fellow wearing a photographers vest snapping pictures everywhere; we later counted 5 empty film cans in the trash!

About five hours after they arrived, they staged all of the official US government boxes near the back loading dock. They took a huge van and backed it up to my loading dock, and proceeded to load it with my goods. I walked over to the boxes to verify what they were taking; obviously, they would want me to confirm their counts and amounts. I was stunned! They wouldn't let me see what was in the boxes! I have no idea what they took. I went over to look in them, and they told me to get away. They told me they'd give me an inventory sheet. I said, 'That's my stuff and I should be able to check it.' Special Agent Craig Healy turned to me and said 'You can trust us.'"

After they had finished loading the van, they presented me with the inventory sheet, a simple handwritten sheet with no names, titles or signatures. There's nothing indicating who it was from on it. I looked at one of the sheets quickly and noticed the very first part number wasn't one of ours and the second item number listed was for a kit that had no function or bearing on their search warrant. They agreed to fish those two items out of the van and sure enough, neither item was correct. One of them said words to the effect of, 'gee, we must have picked up the wrong box from your shelf.' They corrected their mistakes, asked for a recommendation for a good local restaurant and were on their way...

After they left, employees told me that they surrounded the building, watching all the entrances while they entered along with a New York state trooper for back-up. This show of force, while maybe necessary for raiding an underground drug lab, was hardly necessary. Our building is located in a typical suburban office park and our showroom is open to all.

What's incredible is that two of the agents were here a week earlier, pretending to be customers! This 'recon' obviously would have shown them that no force would be needed, let alone seven agents on a three hour travel time round trip. What's especially aggravating was that during the earlier visit they tried to lead one of my technical people into saying something they wanted to hear. Questions were posed like 'if we placed one of these little kits across the street in that building - for instance - could we hear it over here?' Our technician assured them that although the units work great for model rockets, toy cars and such, they really weren't suited for transmitting out of a building. Steel construction, reinforcing rod and the like limits range. They then asked if they could boost the power to do the job. Our fellow once again reiterated that the kits were hobby stuff and that what they wanted couldn't be found here. After the raid, my technician told me that they were here last week, playing 'customer' and how they had left unsatisfied.

So, where do we sit now? I have a Federal Small Business Innovation Grant underway that uses our little FM-5 wireless mike to transmit muscle sensor data to a nearby computer system. The doctors who are partners in the grant specified the FM-5 due to its small size; present technology uses a six pound transmitter that straps to the back of a child. Tough to do on a forty pound kid. The research is on walking disorders on crippled kids. Now what? Shall we violate their interpretation of the law and work with the doctors and the SBIR people? How about all the schools, scout troops and hobbyists who use our kits? We're not talking big money here. The kits amount to a small portion of our business, but what will these folks do now?

I have personally received mail from many who say that they are now graduate engineers as a direct result of one of our little kits sparking their interest in electronics. I guess the mobsters, terrorists and kidnappers don't feel the need to write, huh?

The Aftermath - and the Feds

The raid on Ramsey Electronics has caused quite a stir online, in Ramsey's own discussion forum as well as the submission queue here at Slashdot. People have gotten into intense discussions about freedom of information, freedom of speech, and the importance of using modern electronics in the field of education. At first glance, the raid may look like a cavalcade of constitutional rights issues, but Joel Violanti, the attorney prosecuting this case for the United States Customs Service, disagrees. Here's his take on the Ramsey raid:

What happened, Joel?

On November 10th, there were approximately 13 search warrants issued in New York City and Rochester, New York and Austin, Texas against companies believed to be in the business of selling electronic surreptitious intercept devices, in violation of federal law. Ramsey Electronics was one of those companies.

Apparently, Ramsey's been selling this equipment for a very long time. Why did the raid occur last year?

If something's illegal, it's illegal.

Is there any reason that Ramsey Electronics wasn't raided earlier?

Sometimes you can only act upon things when you're informed of them. There's a task force in New York City that's been investigating this for a few years now. They've been shutting down companies or preventing companies from selling these things, and they've been taking several criminal pleas because of this. These people have been pleading guilty in Federal court. San Francisco now has a task force. Other cities are joining in, trying to stop the manufacture and distribution of this equipment.

Where does it stop? It seems like I could build something like this on my own, and then be just as guilty.

The statute prohibits people from manufacturing and distributing these devices, knowing they've been shipped through the mail.

Where does the government draw the line at surreptitious use, as opposed to educational use?

I don't know how to answer that. Use is use. If you place a device in a clock, and you put that clock on the wall, and you monitor someone's conversation that you're not a part of, I think that surreptitious use speaks for itself. Clock, smoke detector, or picture frame, you're taking that device out of its primary use in order to secretly intercept someone else's conversation. We're not necessarily looking for kits or components. We're looking for items like clocks, smoke detectors and picture frames.

Mr. Violanti made it clear that the US Customs Service was not in any way attempting to 'crack down' on the hobbyist or educational use of electronic devices. The emphasis remains on specific items that fall under the category of surreptitious use. The specific items the feds were apparently looking for in the Ramsey raid were things like microphones and video cameras mounted inside smoke detectors or alarm clocks, effectively masquerading as something they weren't.

Despite Mr. Violanti's reasuurances, the Ramsey Electronics raid still leaves questions for innocent geeks who like to tinker with assorted electronic parts. What if, for instance, you build an alarm clock that will sense motion when it goes off, and will keep going off if it doesn't sense you getting out of bed and stops when you do? What if you rig your smoke detector with a video or audio system so that rescue workers can make sure your family gets out of your house safely in the event of a fire?

There are many uses for 'surveillance technology' other than listening in on boring conversations.

But even if you made these devices with the most innocent purposes in mind, and sold them through the U.S. Mail to people as innocent as yourself, it looks like the Federal Government would feel justified in taking them away from you just in case one of your customers decided to use one of your gadgets to break the law in some way.

It's a scary thought, isn't it?

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Feds (1)

Girf (101378) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401830)

Methink the feds should stay out of other peoples hair...

Don't Snoop... (3)

Steve B (42864) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401831)

...the government hates competition.

Government (0)

Noctrnl (110574) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401832)

damn government at it again.........

SJG 1 SS 0 (1)

Maxwell_E (16977) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401833)

This has happened before. Stupid government raids initiated by bored agents. Judges have tended in the past to smack the feds silly. Ramsey electronics can kiss that stuff goodbye, as well as any losses or damages.

What's next (1)

rwarfield (27024) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401834)

Does this mean that my Mr. Microphone is in violation too?

damn these web filters! (1)

Astraea (105410) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401835)

It seems my employer has blocked from our inquisitive eyes. Anyone have a mirror of the article?


Gun owners have been living with this already. (3)

hielo (65800) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401836)

ANyone in the gun culture already knows that we have become the "Jews of Germany in the 30's".

We have raids on peoples house for the crime of owning a fully legal, registered firearm.

We comply with stricter and stricter laws, only to find that they use the registration lists to confiscate our firearms.

We in the firearms culture already see what other segments of US society are only beggining to see, America has become a police state.

If they want your goods, they will come and take them, good luck getting them back. If they want your land, they will take it, if some podunk police department wants your car, they will confiscate it.

Wake up already.

This is really nothing new. (4)

Amphigory (2375) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401837)

Anyone else remember Mark Williams Games? They were basically shut down because one of their systems ran a BBS that was used to transfer a description of the 911 system in Georgia. (See "the hacker crackdown" for more information. Look in google.) The company was never charged with anything, and after all the equipment was obsolete and the game they were making was passe, was returned.

The bottom line is that, under current law, federal law enforcement can seize your entire business with little or no judicial oversight, you have no right to appeal, and no right to due process. It happens all the time, and noone cares because it's just the drug-dealers and the hackers whining about it, right?

You want an issue: this is it. Law & Order is not an excuse for unreasonable search and seizure. And the fact that this kind of nonsense is tolerated is wonderful evidence of just how downhill our courts have gone -- civil rights, RIP. Killed by judicial activism.

Yay... This story... (1)

Chip Stillmore (16985) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401838)

is yet another opportunity for geeks to pretend to be lawyers pretending to be geeks.

*sigh* (5)

radja (58949) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401839)

In dutch we have an expression for these kinds of things: Amerikaanse toestanden.
This translates approximately to 'American situations' with strong negative connotations. Needless to say it's never used in a positive sense.


Strange... (1)

Powers (118325) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401840)

Weird stuff... although you have to admit that the owner's description of events is necessarily one-sided. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it's good to have both sides of any story (I know, that's what the interview is for -- but he didn't discuss the specific event in much detail).

If Slashdot is so concerned about what this might mean for the tinkering geek, why didn't they ask the interviewee specifically about that?

Finally, I find it odd that I heard nothing about this in the local media (I live in Rochester). No letters to the editor, no articles in the paper, nothing. Might have been something on TV news, but I doubt it (since there was nothing in the newspaper).

Very odd indeed...

The other company... (1)

starman97 (29863) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401841)

They raided Supercircuits [] in Austin TX.

I guess the Govt does not like any competition when it comes to spying on people...

What About Plans? (1)

Vidboy (128116) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401842)

I may just not get this, but it seems that Violanti was not clear about wether or not it was illegal to make these things for personal use. Or maybe selling plans isn't illegal. I'm probably wrong on this one, but if plans for such a device aren't illegal, then Ramsey could probably make some more money on this one.

When's Damark gonna be hit? (2)

georgeha (43752) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401843)

They usually have such things like cameras hidden in clocks and radios in their catalogs. A wuick serach of their web page didn't show any, so maybe they've already been hit.

They do still mention their b&w surviellance cameras.


hmph (1)

CodeMonky (10675) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401844)

Well this would appear to be a huge misuse of authority. I would say that the owner of the store has a case for finding out what was in the boxes that were confiscated. Although by this time i'm sure that it is gone or disassembled.

What about a warning first? (1)

Banpei (113822) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401845)

Policemen shout "freeze" and that sort of stuff before shooting. This makes no sense.

Ofcourse, those FM Mics are illegal according to the law, but what about a friendly nice notice first before raiding a store!

I don't know about the Dutch equvalent, but I guess this is just the way how the Feds operate...

Shut up. (0)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401846)

Don't mix that with your pro-gun advocacy. This has nothing to do with gun control. There is strong gun control all over EU and this kind of event as reported here would seem unacceptable here too. Thank you.


Tis sad (3)

Randy Rathbun (18851) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401847)

I just love being guilty until proven innocent....

So, I can't buy chemistry lab equipment because I might make drugs....

I can't buy small video cameras because I might put them in a clock....

I can't watch DVDs on Linux because I might make copies....

I can't duplicate a digital audio tape I made of my late grandmother because I might copy N*SYNC's latest album....

Protecting the Citizens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401848)

The US government has a right and a responsibility to perform those actions necessary to protect the citizens of this country. While we may not agree with the laws, they are still laws, and we're bound by them. The "feds" were perfectly within their right to act the way that they did, and (except for the erronious inventory sheet) appear to have done nothing wrong according to the above account. I'm tired, DAMN tired, of people blaming the feds for doing their job... enforcing the law. If you don't agree with the laws, blame the people who MADE them, not those that enforce them. I can't speak for customs officials, but I know for damn sure that every raid an FBI or DEA agent takes part in, no matter how "safe" it appears on the outside, can end in bloody disaster. Leave 'em alone, and let them do their jobs. But yeah, the laws are a bit too broad, and should probably be looked into...

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (1)

Powers (118325) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401849)

Uhh, last time I checked, the government had to compensate private citizens for confiscation of property, such as land taken to build highways.

Are you saying that the government shouldn't have the right/responsibility to make use of land just because a private citizen owns it? I also see nothing wrong with allowing police to confiscate cars when needed to perform their duties, as long as the owner is compensated for the loss. Sure, I'd be ticked if they did it to me, but it's just one of those things that you have to deal with in the interest of the greater good.

Re:This is really nothing new. (1)

Ronin75 (21473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401850)

Are you confusing this with Steve Jackson Games? They have a good summary [] of what happened.

I don't think that this story and that are related, though, except that they both involve goverment raids. This is the actual selling of electronics, and that was just an insanely clueless agent busting RPG.

Re:What's next (1)

ChrisGB (114774) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401851)

How about a Furby? Technically that's a recording system masquerading as a cute cuddly toy animal!

Ramsey Raid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401852)

Simply amazing. I guess the ideal world would be to ban any tool or equipment suitable for illegal purposes. Including kitchen knifes, motorized vehicles, chainsaws, ski masks and the like...

The feds missed something... (1)

Threed (886) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401853)

Ramsey also manufactures kits that, when assembled (very easily), transmit on the 88-108MHz band... FM radio. Pump Up the Volume :)

There's specific FCC regulations for ultra-low-power FM devices, and Ramsey's kits (as shipped) all fall well inside, but the design of the devices is so simple and open that they can easily be modified to either put out more power on their own or to be the first stage in a massive pirate FM operation. It's a miracle that this legal action didn't originate from the FCC (Knock On Wood).

BTW: Ramsey makes good stuff and ships it out in good faith at a decent price. Truly a hobbyist's friend. :)

The law on this looks pretty vague..vague means tr (1)

BranMan (29917) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401854)

The company could be in real trouble - section 2512 is kindof vague. It uses the term 'surrepitious' apparently to mean 'disguised'. So on the face of things Ramsey should be OK. They make electronics kits, not hidden microphones.

But, the text of 2512 also makes use of the term "primary use or function", which I think gives the Feds a real lever to use against Ramsey - they don't have to find devices hidden in clocks and picture frames (which is what they apparently were looking for). All they have to do is be able to argue in court that the "primary use" for the kits would be for people to build their own hidden monitoring devices. That it is not the kit's stated or advertised use may not be defense enough.

IANAL of course, but I can see where Ramsey's lawyers might advise them to "settle" (ie. plead guilty to a lesser charge rather than challenge them in court), just like the "other cases" mentioned by Violanti in the follow up to the article.

Re:This is really nothing new. (2)

Amphigory (2375) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401855)

You're right... Guess I took a GPF on the brain.

They're doing this for a reason... (1)

ElfiE____________ (97748) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401856)

...which is valid. I'm sure we're going to hear people screaming about they're freedom, but 'bugs' can also take away this freedom by being supplied and used by just about anyone who can use a soldering iron who can then place it where they believe a conversation will occur. But, this does not condone the way they are going about it. Surely there are better ways, such as finding the people who are actually using them to snoop, while not removing their educational element.

I for one found those little things great fun to build and tune.

Interesting! (1)

Midnight Ryder (116189) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401857)

Wow - I've been complaining about the quality of /. reporting for a while now. I hate to say it but - this is one of the better pieces I've seen /. do in quite a while. The interview with the attourney was good, and I'm glad to see that /. followed up on the story to give us both sides of the story.

If this is an example of what /. reporting is going to look like in the future - the future looks good! Hats off to Rob & the gang!

As for what happened to them - well, there is some case here (microphones and cameras imbeded into other devices.) However, the question is - did they sell these as 'home security' devices, or evesdropping devices? That would seem to make a huge difference to me!

I would sure like to know more. (5)

evilpenguin (18720) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401858)

I'm an amateur radio operator and Ramsey makes kits for that hobby. As far as I know, Ramsey is a hobbyist-oriented radio electronics company. Most of the employees are probably radio amateurs who are just happy to be making a living tinkering with transceivers.

I'm not familiar with the product in question, but my guess is that it complies with all FCC regulations and is intended for use as a small, short range transmitter. I can think of thousands of legitimate uses, from baby monitors to short range telemetry.

I wonder if their device has been showing up in cases of bugging like that State Department conference room incident in the news a few weeks ago.

Low power VHF/UHF radio is a tricky thing. If the transmitter and the receiver are in the right place and the weather is just so such a device might be heard from miles away. At the same time, a receiver 50 feet away might be totally unable to hear the signal from the transmitter.

As I said, I'd like to know more. I really doubt Rmasey made this thing with the intent (or even the inkling) that it would be used for illegal purposes. The DA (or was it a Federal Attorney?) could probably have contacted the company and told them about misuse of the product and I'd be willing to bet they would have discontinued or made modifications to the design to address those concerns.

I would only go after a company like this if I could find that they were owned or operated by persons directly engaged in the illegal uses of the devices (like finding out the KGB was a shareholder or somesuch).

Law enforcement should have the power to search and sieze. They can only do so with a warrant, which means they had to convince a judge that this was a good idea. I'd like to know how the judge arrived at his or her decision to grant this warrant.

An aside: I find some of the Slashdot response interesting. We're a bit schizophrenic. We are bananas about privacy issues and here is the state taking aciton against a company that makes a device that is used to illegally violate privacy and we, er, go bananas!

How can we get more information?

Get a good lawyer, Mr. Ramsey (3)

Thag (8436) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401859)

This sounds like the Steve Jackson Games raid all over again. Most likely Mr. Ramsey will have to sue to get his inventory back, and from the sound of things, most likely he'll win, but it will probably drag on for years in the courts.

I recommend he talk to Steve Jackson, try getting a contact from Steve Jacson Games' website [] .

You know, it's sad that a woman can spill coffee in her lap and get millions of dollars, but someone like this will be lucky to get their legal expenses covered.


shivers (1)

rodentia (102779) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401860)

You can trust us.

Christ, it sent shivers up my spine. This presumption of the inherent rectitude of their actions is what makes these little apparatchiks so freaking dangerous. There is no appreciable difference between these bastards and the occupants of the Black Marias.

Merchants are not responsible for their clients! (1)

Phizzy (56929) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401861)

There should be a line drawn between selling equipment that can be modified to break the law, and equipment that can be used to break the law out of box vs. equipment that is sold solely for the purpose of breaking the law. Obviously these hobby shops were not selling this equipment for this purpose, they were supplying electronics. Of course, with enough modification, the products they sell can be used to break the law; any products that are sold can, with enough modification, break the law, but the responsibility for the digression in that case rests not with the person who sold the original product, but with the person who modified it and/or used it to break the law. If people could be arrested for selling this kind of equipment, then shouldn't all of the computer manufacturers of all the people arrested for "cyber crimes" (ew.. I feel dirty just saying that) be arrested as well? (Any govt officials reading the preceding sentence, please notice the EXTREME sarcasm). Not to mention gun makers...

These arrests set a bad precedent, and should be challenged.


Re:Feds (2)

Eric Green (627) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401862)

Naw, that would interfere with their ability to be total assholes. We couldn't hire government employees for dirt-cheap salaries if we didn't give them the right to be total assholes and persecute people. Let's face it, people don't go to work for the government for the salary (which sucks). They go to work for the government so that they can lord it over other people, so that they can arbitrarily deny disability benefits to autistic children, stage bullshit raids on people who have "unauthorized" technology, stop people for the crime of driving black (or Hispanic, here in the Southwest).

The idea that government exists to protect people from other people has become a total laugh. Government's job today is to protect big business at the expense of small business or individuals. And government is one of the big businesses that government protects.


Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (1)

Fruan (105302) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401863)

While I think that you may me exagerating just a *little*, you basicly have a point.

If you allow me the cynisism of saying that all authority ultimatly comes from violence, you'll see that the only thing stoping a millitary dictatorship in the US is that the millitary doesn't seem to want to take over :o)

Why this may be is beyond the point (Patriotism, Stupidity, whatever) - If they wanted to take over they could.

And while some people might see this as a good reason for that pesky Right to Bear Arms that you Americans hold onto so dearly, *I* see it a good reason to not have an orginized fighting force at all.
Yes yes, I know. I'm living in a dream world - its never going to happen, for all the obvious reasons, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Now, getting back on topic, this whole insident seems to be the 'classic' [and I'm just basing this on hearsay] symptom of beurocrasy: people desciding that they arn't being paid to think.
Obviously, from what was in the artical at least, none of what was seized comes anywhere *near* what the law specifies

Monitoring Devices (1)

ChrisGB (114774) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401864)

Forgive me if I've got the wrong end of the stick here - I'm sure there's a difference between US and UK law. Is it illegal in the US to have an item (like a clock for example) that can double up as something else (like a surveillance camera)?

We have a store in the UK called Spymaster that sells nothing but that kind of equipment - the US authorities would have a field day if they visited! I also found a similar place [] in the US. Does this law mean that the pen shown would be illegal as well?

This seems like a chapter from 1984. (1)

RuntimeError (132945) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401865)

A kitchen knife could be used to kill someone. Therefore, we should ban knives, knife manufactures warehouses raided, the weapons siezed, and the factories closed down.

The irony of it is, there are two US agencies, FBI and the CIA, that make use of these devices quite frequently, for surreptitious listening. I believe that the average user, uses it mostly for educational or recreational purposes.

I feel that these raids are a way for the US government and its dirty tricks departments to aquire there surreptitius intercept devices free of charge.


Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401866)

Yet Another Victim in the Federal Governments's War on the Constitution.

Intent vs Capability (1)

LL (20038) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401867)

It seems a bit of a shame that the law enforcement agencies are focusing on capabilities rather than intent. Given the rate of technological progress, it seems to be a bit of a losing game. Are they going to ban all blue-tooth chips because they can be used to transmit "private" information between people? "Can" is a long way away from "might" much less "will". Perhaps it might be worthwhile looking again at the legal system. Already there are enough federal legislation, state regulations and local by-laws to drive battalions of lawyers crazy, not to mention normal citizens.

I don't know how technology will alter things but perhaps some thought should go into how to encourage people to adopt good practices and just friendly warnings rather than coming down hard based on suspicion. For example, I can think of situations of when you've been convicted of your third misdemenour, you get a public survainlance camera attached in order to inpose social restrictions on the few rather than imposing an indirect cost on the whole of society. Alternatively reward public officials who have been shown to consistently act for community benefit, ie people working for the public should be seen to be working for the public.

Hmmmm, I think I'm rambling here but I'd just like to point out that social conventions and subtle peer pressure (old honor system) can probably do more to safeguard society than passing draconian laws which are not well communicated. Unless there's enlightened self-interest in identifying and educating people (hitting with a cluebat) that breaking the system has detrimental side effects, it looks like more prisons (and taxpayer-funded lifestyles) are only going to increase.


Defeding which hobby? (1)

Simon Hibbs (74836) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401868)

These guys seem to sell a fair variety of equipment. I had a look at their web site and
some of the kit that was siezed had catalogue descriptions like 'Disguised Clock w/audio'
and 'Disguised Smoke w/audio'. If it's illegal to sell surveilance equipment
deliberately disguised as household objects, then these guys appear to be as guilty
as hell. Some of the other kit may have been legitimate, but nevertheless if this
supplier was breaking the law with some of their equipment and some other of their
equipment could easily be adapted to break the law, then they have little defence.

If they were only selling non-disguised gear then I'd have a lot more sympathy.
Nevertheless these laws presumably aren't just designed to protect the
public from terrorists and organised crime, but also other members of
the public. Surveilance devices are used by companies to monitor staff and
spy on competitors.

Simon Hibbs

Had a bit of a similar experience (5)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401869)

I hear a knock at my door. I look through the peep hole, and there is a guy dressed like someone from the movie "Men in Black." How he got in the building, I don't know, it's a University dorm, and there's card access to the doors, and breakfast hasn't even opened yet (aka no awake students), so I don't think a student let him in. I asked who it was, and all he did was flash his badge at the peep hole and say something like "Federal Agent, Open Up" (I was still mostly asleep, and I'm not entirely sure what time it was, but it was still dark out).

Ok, so the feds, er, just one fed is standing outside my door, I guess I should open it. Just a warning: when opening the door to a fed, stand back, they come in like a bullet with out being invited in.

Basically, what he wanted was to let me know that my port scanning of their servers in California wasn't going to be permitted (I've never port scanned anyone but people I know). At school, we have dedicated IP addresses, and apparently there had been a lot of activity from my IP address checking out the ports on their computers. Only thing I can think of is that someone spoofed my IP and was portscanning them. I pleaded ignorance to him, but he wouldn't have any of it. He threatened me with obtaining a search warrant and siezing my electronic equipment.

Well, what do you do when you're staring at a guy who's probably packing heat, and knows how to use it, and who's in your face. You melt, that's what. I probably only got in about ten words for the fifteen minutes or so that he was there (oh, and a whole bunch of first syllables to words before being cut off by him).

About a week later, the school revoked my IP address, telling me that the government had requested it!!! According to the school, they knew about the episode in my room, and that I had been warned about scanning, and that the scans had actually continued after the guy in my room.

While my IP was revoked (the school placed a filter on the routers, so noone on campus could use my IP address, not even spoof it, the routers simply wouldn't forward it, the portscans continued. There was no way for me to have perpetrated the scans. The government was back in contact with my school, warning that there would soon be legal action against the school if they didn't stop me, but the school responded that there was no way it could have been me, and suggested the possibility of a IP spoofing. The feds apparently concurred, my school appologized to me for the hassle, returned my IP, and I never heard from the feds again.

Scarry, huh? True story.

Re:Ramsey Raid (1)

proj_2501 (78149) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401870)

Ski masks are dangerous! Somebody won a Darwin Award for going to the bank with a ski mask on. The teller thought he was holding up the bank and gave him $10000. He didn't say anything and the police chased him off a cliff!
"I was a fool to think I could dream as a normal man."

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (1)

razzmataz (69616) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401871)

More often than not, civil forfeiture(sp?) laws are abused. Property can be confiscated just on suspicion of criminal activity, and not returned, no appeals, etc. All thanks to the "war on drugs".

Definition of "Surreptitious"? (1)

Ciannait (82722) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401872)

What immediately springs to mind are those infamous nanny-cams that you see on the likes of Oprah. Would this not count as surreptitious, since they're usually embedded in clocks or knick-knacks placed on shelves, or whatnot?
I'd consider those much more of a "privacy violation" than the devices sold by Ramsey, which appear to be little personal monitoring devices. (They seem to be kissing cousins to the Polar heartrate monitoring watches.)

As an aside, I like to see this sort of thing on Slashdot. /. employs a calibre of Geek that should be able to do more than regurgitate news from CNN. Originality is good...

"During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I was riding the pogostick."

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (0)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401873)

Puh-lease!!! Pull your head out of the Turner Diaries and come back to reality. If these guys were indeed manufacturing illegal components, then the feds had the right (and duty) to conduct the raid. While their manner may have been on the gruff side, that's part and parcel of the job they do - they never know when they have to deal with wackos from "the firearms culture" in the line of duty.

And quit with the pathetic self-pity of comparing gun owners to the Jews in Nazi Germany. Go get your psychotropic prescription re-filled, and stop listening to the voices in your head calling for revolution...

Truely Disgusting (2)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401874)

I dunno about anyone else...but I am once again
truely disgusted by this. It never ceases
to shock me what this government will do to its

Of course, being a person who reads drug
decriminilization mailing lists, I have heard
about worst than this, many times over.

At least electronics manafacturers do not have
police in military gear raiding their houses
and fireing at anyone who moves too fast.
(case a coupla years back police raided a house
and killed him - no drugs were found)

check out:
for a nice list (the one I am refering to is on
that page named: Pedro Oregon Navarro

Heard of the Constitution? (1)

Thag (8436) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401875)

There's this thing called the Bill of Rights, which among other things guards against unreasonable search and seizure.

No, the government is NOT allowed to just seize your property whenever the hell they feel like it! They have to have a good, clearly defined reason for doing so, and even then it's going to be difficult. Building new highways is very difficult, because it takes the government years, sometimes decades to clear the legal hurdles.

While the previous poster WAS mixing issues to some extent, and while he did mention the Nazis, I still think his point is well taken.


Only Revolution (1)

tilleyrw (56427) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401876)

can save us now. America is hell and has been for some time. Problem is, the rest of the world is worse.

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (1)

Hanno (11981) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401877)

Godwin's law. You lost.


That was close to home! (1)

jnhtx (87543) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401878)

I've ordered equipment for my home security system from both Supercircuits and Ramsey. They are both wonderful companies that are a pleasure to deal with. Supercircuits located near my home in Austin, yet I'd heard nothing about a raid in the local media.

I think I'm going join the NRA, even though I don't own a gun. It just seems like the federal goverment wants our lives to be totaly transparent to them, and they want to deny to us any tool that might enhance our personal security and privacy.

This is really scary, thanks to /. for running this story.

Not as bad as it seems (1)

BoneFlower (107640) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401879)

This seems fairly reasonable. Ramsey Electronics was suspected of selling surreptitious surveillance devices. And according the government information they were not saying things like "This clock has a microphone" but apparently the gvt believed that they were selling the devices under the table. Whether they are or not, if there is strong evidence they are, it must be investigated. The agents did return the two boxes mistakenly taken, and did provide an inventory list, and did get a warrant. They could have behaved more proffesionally, but thats a relatively minor concern in this case.

The bottom line: If the government believes you are selling equipment intended for use as surreptitious surveillance, and your products are not clearly labeled as surveillance devices(like baby monitors) then they must investigate. These agents did their job, got a warrant, and even returned wrongly taken property before even leaving the site. Perhaps the agents could be criticized for unproffesional behavior, but they did their job. And even the owner of Ramsey electronics admitted that some of the devices taken related to the search warrant. As long as all property is returned and Ramsey Electronics is compensated for lost profits in the case of an aquital there is nothing wrong with this situation.

*blink* (1)

elthia (119370) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401880)

Okay, here is a question:

Does this mean that the teddy-bear-with-a-camera that is sold in many places as a surveillance of your own children is illegal? Is it illegal to covertly film your nanny as he/she cares for your kids, to make sure he/she isn't beating them? Or how about NURSERY MONITORS that have clocks in them?

Shouldn't they be going after the people who misuse these things, rather than the ones who manufacture them? Yes, I know, go after the maker of the crack and you cut supply short for the dealers and addicts, but we're not talking about crack here, we're talking about stupid little radio bits. Educational toys. Where does it end? And since you aren't allowed to look at your own belongings when They box em up, how is anyone to know that they aren't being framed for something?

Jeez, this sounds as bad as the movies. Can I run away to another country now? But... is any place safe? Cripes, I can just see it now - we're either going to go Shadowrun and everyone with brains will be hiding from the corps and the cops at once, or we're going to become the Snow Crash society, with the US being a tiny section of land where NOONE does ANYTHING without being monitored. Ick, or we're there already and Big Brother isn't just a fiction anymore. Ok, I'm scared. Is there a solution to this? Please tell me we're not headed for a revolution, cause if we are I'm going to hide under my bed now.


should have been grandfathered or given notice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401881)

This a rather jack-booted approach to take. FM mics are nothing new. It sounds as though no cease and desist order was issued. Ramsey is a respected name in the amatuer radio community. They don't sound like the kind of outfit that would be inclined to knowingly do anything illegal.

This deprivation of property without due process is fallout from the "drug war".

Making innovation illegal (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401882)

This really shouldn't surprise anyone. For some time technology has been making the transmission of information, be it sound, video, or whatever, easier and easier. However, people with power want this flow of information to be a one way street. It is trivial to attach a microphone to a wireless transmitter, but note they are going after hobby shops and not Apple computer. The wireless transmission capabilities of the iMAc portable are good enough to meet the federal definition, but Apple is too big a company to bury in this fashion. They want successful prosecutions, not solutions to the problem. Fear is required, and not sanity. This is hardly a surprise, the laws currently on the books make many people federal criminals unknowingly. For example, if you have a note on your car, and drive it across a state line without explicit permission from the lender, you can be successfully charged and prosecuted for felony theft across state lines. Your only protection from prosecution, increasingly, is the good will of law enforcement. Incidents like this make that good will suspect at best. The current judicial system in the US is largely immune from peer review. The people involved are legally silenced, the court records sealed, and anyone who talks may be prosecuted. Hopefully cases like this will wake people up, but I don't think it's gotten bad enough yet.

Re:Protecting the Citizens (1)

razzmataz (69616) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401883)

Henry David Thoureu(sp? - I need a spell checker) would probably disagree with you.

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401884)

Yup. Every gun owner is a racist and reads the Turner Diaries. Go f*ck yourself.

Re:Heard of the Constitution? (1)

isil (63430) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401885)

the government does it all the time.
catch is, unless you have the power to sue and pressure the government to capitulate, you are SOL. even then, you are still likely to be SOL.

the constitution doesnt mean squat if the judicial system isnt willing to back you up.

Off-Site Backups (3)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401886)

The bottom line is that, under current law, federal law enforcement can seize your entire business with little or no judicial oversight, you have no right to appeal, and no right to due process.

While this is a travesty, it is also why companies should always have a couple of backups, and at least one off-site.

For instance, I can see the feds raiding one of my clients, but I can't see them also raiding the President's home computer (which has encrypted data backups sent to it via a dedicated line each night) and a storage locker in the name of the president's wife (which has a locked file cabinet filled with backup tapes).

Remember, kids: The feds aren't omnipotent. If you squirrel away enough backups, they won't be able to grab them all and you can get back into business with a few emergency sub-$1000 computers from Best Buy. The feds almost never look for off-site backups.

Of course, the issue here is that the devices being sold were illegal under US law. If you don't like the law, that's one thing, but criticising law enforcement is like criticising fire for burning down your house after you left those candles burning. I also find it amusing that all the geeks who routinely rail against Big Brother also run to protect the people who make their tools (where do you think corporate security buys their gear?)...


Well this is neat (1)

Q-bert][ (21619) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401887)

Apparently the Goverment is trying to create a monopoly. They want to be the only ones who can listen in on converstations and use 'spy' equipment. How Neat.

Perhaps this is 'For the Children' or 'The War on Drugs'

Ramsey also makes illegal TV transmitters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401888)

as do others in the US. These are, and have always been, 100 percent illegal since it is a no-no to tranmit on any commercial TV frequency under Part 15, with some rare exceptions, none of which are available to the general public.

While I think the Feds were too heavy-handed in their dealing with this matter, Ramsey Electronics isn't an innocent party, either.

Re:Monitoring Devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401889)

yeah - you can get loads of stuff like this from maplins.

You can probably get it all from radio shack too! I bet the feds won't bust Walmart or radioshack or any of the big guys.

In europe we have been complaining about US and its agencies engaging in economic spying, it wouldn't surprise me if the the FBI and NSI were as corrupt as the WTO, UN and IMF/WBO! Likely one of the big radio comms manufacturers lobbied extra hard this year and wanted some results - ie kill the little guys who innovate so that they can roll in the big bucks!

I'm so glad I'm not over there.


Ramsey -Raw deal. (3)

ctimes2 (38940) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401891)

While I tend to suspect the "hobbiest" nature of what they are selling, the way raids are conducted are out of hand. From Ramsey's description of what happened, it was unprofessional and indicitive of the nature of raids.

While I'm sure the 'feds' will get the majority of /. attention, bear in mind that they are doing their jobs as defined by law and doing raids as defined & requested by the investigators - who are doing their investigations at the request of private citizens who feel violated by one thing or another. They don't leave names because it would open them to retalliation (imagine having a whole group of 'experts' in survellance having it out for you...).

Basically, before you all start screaming holy hell and damn the government, try to bear in mind that the mentality and state of law enforcement and government has been set and continues to be set by private citizens (AKA individuals) with the motivation to change something they don't like. You don't want the government to be allowed to do raids, start a political action group and change the law. Just don't go crying to the police when your car stereo is in your neighbor kid's garage - and he won't give it back.


Mark Williams? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401892)

No, it was Steven Jackson games.

Re:Had a bit of a similar experience (3)

JasonVergo (101331) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401893)

"I would like to talk to my lawyer" Memorize this!!

Re:Shut up. (4)

Detritus (11846) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401894)

It has a lot to do with gun "control". In many places in the USA, the police will seize all firearms when they execute a search warrant, whether or not it is relevant to the warrant. They will refuse to return the firearms unless forced by a court order. Guns are "bad" so they feel justified in ignoring the Constitution and Bill of Rights. This sets a pattern for ignoring the law in other situations, such as the "War on Some Drugs". Similar abuses are seen when the Feds seize computers and hold them for years as possible evidence in prosecutions that may never happen.

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401895)

And quit with the pathetic self-pity of comparing gun owners to the Jews in Nazi Germany

Read a history book, jerkoff. The holocaust would have never taken place without gun confiscation.

Eminent Domain (1)

uncleFester (29998) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401896)

Uhh, last time I checked, the government had to compensate private citizens for confiscation of property, such as land taken to build highways.

No, make that should. The grey-smoke phrase fair market value is also bandied about a LOT in those instances. The cold hard fact, however, is if you have land (or something else, for that matter) the government wants, they usually ending up getting it regardless of the owner seeing ANY return (let alone 'fair market value').

My family has gone through this twice in my father's lifetime (one because of a reservoir, one because of a freeway). We almost lost 1/3 of our farm to a third attempt (the US superconducting supercollider[1]). The only thing that really saved us was a hidden faultline somewhere along the area the ring would have passed through (in Ohio, no less). We also managed to find out we have excellent solid bedrock below some of our prime farmland.. but never ever were asked about doing a detailed survey.

There are still people in the O(hio)SU physics dept. I despise to this day.

[1] when i was young, i thought the physics world was fascinating. this whole episode, however, brought the more realistic (political) side to the whole scientific world for me, and as a result I can't help but wonder what others have (been forced to) sacrifice(d) in the holy name of Research. The scientists aren't to blame.. unless they use the government as their resource gathering arm.

Re:SJG 1 SS 0 (1)

BoneFlower (107640) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401897)

They will get their stuff back. Think about it. Two boxes of wrongly taken material was returned to them before the agents even left. The rest of it was conceded to be relevant to the warrant. After it is investigated, I expect the equipment to be returned or held for evidence in a criminal trial, and if the latter ends in aquittal returned then.

Accountability of FBI during raids. (2)

AtariDatacenter (31657) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401898)

Funny... I'm thinking that the government needs regulated here. If the government is going to be conducting raids, they need to be more accountable for their actions. Specifically, if they take items, they should fully document the items taken. In an example like this, the company can be damaged if it does not know what inventory is taken. Such poor documentation does not speak well for the FBI.

As for their intimidation tactics... if they had a good case, they really wouldn't need them.

The other company...also has VR headset (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401899)

Hmm. Supercircuits [] also has a VR headset. VROS-1 [] has twin LCD displays and stereo sound. $600. Composite video or S-Video, no VGA. No mention of LCD resolution.

Re:This is really nothing new. (1)

Fruan (105302) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401900)

You use windows to run your brain? Sounds... dangerous.

Freedom! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401901)

I love living in a free country! This kind of thing could never happen in the US! Them Russians just do whatever they want to. If some Russian company trys to make FM transmitters that are against the law, the KGB puts a quick stop to it!

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (1)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401902)

And while some people might see this as a good reason for that pesky Right to
Bear Arms that you Americans hold onto so dearly, *I* see it a good reason to not
have an orginized fighting force at all.
Yes yes, I know. I'm living in a dream world - its never going to happen, for all the
obvious reasons, but a guy can dream, can't he?

No, that's a reasonable opinion. In fact, I believe it is more or less what Costa Rica did. They were smart enough to realise that the best way to stop military coupes is to disband the military. For many states (I don't think the US is one of them) the domestic military pose a considerable threat to the nation's freedom, and do very little to protect it. They are best disbanded in that circumstance.

Re:Protecting the Citizens (3)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401903)

> The "feds" were perfectly within their right to
> act the way that they did

I happen to disagree. Just because the law says
they were right, doesn't mean that they are right

> I'm tired, DAMN tired, of people blaming the
> feds for doing their job... enforcing the law

Its not my fault. I just did what the law said.
They stationed me at Auchwitz and I just did what
I was suposed to do.

im sorry, when the law is wrong, it is wrong
to enforce the law.

> I can't speak for customs officials, but I
> know for damn sure that every raid an FBI or DEA
> agent takes part in, no matter how "safe" it
> appears on the outside, can end in bloody
> disaster. Leave 'em alone, and let them do their
> jobs. But yeah, the laws are a bit too broad,
> and should probably be looked into...

Yes This I agree with. ANY raid can end in
disaster. Take the raide where an elderly
woman answered the door of police. They stuck
guns in her face and told her to step back.

She screamed "Don't shoot me"...and her husband,
hearing this, ran out of the bedroom with his
revolver. He died because he thought his wifes
life was in danger and came to help her.

No drugs were found at their estate. All on the
word of a paid informant.

Please clarify (2)

EisPick (29965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401904)

The following passage was buried in the interview with the U.S. Atty:

We're not necessarily looking for kits or components. We're looking for items like clocks, smoke detectors and picture frames.

What exactly was seized? Were they phony smoke detectors with hidden microphones and transmitters or were they just kits? The article never says explicitly.

If Ramsey was selling pre-disguised transmitters, I am sympathetic with the FBI. If they were just kits, I'm more inclined to see Ramsey's point of view.

So what's the full story?

Sheesh! (2)

jd (1658) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401905)

I'm one of the people who submitted this story. To be honest, I'm glad that Slashdot actually took the time to research this thoroughly and do a bit of investigative journalism of their own, rather than just print a few lines by me or someone else. This is an amazing piece of work, on the part of the Slashdot crew. Hats off, and bottles of distlled essence of kudos all round!

Now, back to the story. This was serious over-gunning, by the authorities. For this part, it's irrelevent as to who was guilty and who wasn't. Rule by intimidation is no rule at all. It wasn't necessary to charge in there with a small army of heavily-armed agents. As the owner of the store pointed out on his web site, a polite phone call would have been just as effective, from the Fed's perspective, been a damn sight cheaper, and kept up the good relations.

Second, there are some details in this story which are disturbing, to say the least. I am fairly sure it's illegal to seize goods without proper notification as to who is doing the seizing. If it isn't, it should be. Anyone can get a cop outfit at the local fancy-dress store, print out a believable warrant and get someone to sign it. If you can't go to the proper authorities with documentation showing EXACTLY who took what, when and how, they are entirely capable of denying all knowledge, and you would have NOTHING to confront them with.

Another disturbing aspect is that some reports show Ramsey Electronics had dealings with various branches of the Government, assisting them with classified projects to do with terrorism. Let's assume this is true. I've no means of verifying if it is or not. This would mean that terrorists and hostile countries would have plenty of incentive to make up false allegations, to dissuade companies from being too involved in such work. In fact, other companies involved in such work would also have an incentive to remove Ramsey from the picture. More of the contract for them.

Is this scenario likely? The agents acted in a manner which is unprofessional and untracable, reacting to unstated and unrevealed allegations made at an unknown time by unknown sources, covering goods which could not remotely be used for clandestine purposes.

The idea that the Government would cripple it's own contractors seems unlikely. They're paying money for work done, so they're not likely to pay yet more money to go and destroy that work. Big Government may actually be innocent, here.

On the other hand, there's a LONG list of people who have the motive, means, money and manpower to cripple anyone who could even potentially stand in their way. I think these are much more worthy of being looked at.

Nazis are in control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401906)

Only Nazis would behave like the jack-booted thugs described in this story. These people are pure evil. Somehow, we need to get our country (and world) back from the authoritarians and their sympathizers.

Bad government, no biscuit! (2)

WillWare (11935) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401907)

I'm another ham radio operator (albeit inactive for many years now) and Ramsey Electronics is well known among hams as making some of the most fun, excellent radio kits in the hobby. It's particularly irksome that this is happening to folks who have done so much to educate and entertain so many. They're a wonderful little company.

Why didn't these agents bust Radio Shack, which sells walkie-talkies that could also be used for surveillance? Oh right, the bully rule: only bully people much weaker so that there will be no chance of their effectively fighting back. It's good to see that the government has the keen grasp of bullying that was available to some of the seven-year-olds I remember growing up with. Gee, I hope the IRS operates at or above this level of maturity.

Besides, isn't this the same government that promotes surveillance at every possible opportunity, and erodes the privacy of private citizens whenver possible? Aren't these the same guys who read 1984 and drool? When the heck would they have decided that surveillance ought to be a crime?

The problem with Godwin's "Law"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401908) that it quite effectively suppresses legitimate warnings just as well as screwball rantings.

Sometimes, though rarely, the comparison is apt and ought to be fully applied.

That said, the original poster failed to give specific details to back up the claims made -- THAT, not the 'Godwin's Law' bullshit was his failing.

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (2)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401909)

Actually...godwins law only states that as the
length of a discussion increases, the probablity
of a comparison to Hitler or the Nazi Partys
actions aproaches one.

Usually a person has lost all semblance of
usefull argument at this point...however thats
mnot always true.

Huh? (1)

mattc (12417) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401910)

So what law did they break? I don't understand this.. It is illegal to make small microphones?? ??? Guess I better throw away my tape recorder!

Or Jeez, X10 for that matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401911)

And what about X10 who sells home networking and security equpment:

"The original XCam hands-free micro COLOR video camera from X10 -- with lens smaller than a dime!!"

But then, maybe we shouldn't be giving the Feds any ideas!

Re:Truely Disgusting (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401912)

The real problem is that it is virtually impossible to hold the police liable for illegal acts which they comit "in the performance of duty". If, e.g., the officers were to be held liable for all financial damages (including legal expensed) that Ramsey may suffer in the process of defending itsself/himself ... well, I think that their answers would be a bit different. And, of course, removal of the goods without a properly annotated and authorized inventory has to be counted as theft.

Re:Shut up. (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401913)

I reiterate: this has NOTHING to do with gun control. The fact that guns are seized in other cases has NOTHING to do with this. I reiterate that too: in Europe, people aren't allowed to own guns (mostly), and very few see that as a threat to their rights.

where are the disks? (2)

donfede (6215) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401914)


From the headline, I thought this article was going to be about RAID disks[?] [] !!!!


Re:Monitoring Devices (1)

Skinny Rob (110104) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401915)

I think (but do not know) that UK law says anyone can sell any sort of eavesdropping equipment to anyone else, and anyone can own said eavesdropping equipment, but it's illegal to use it to eavesdrop on something you're not a part of. Still, so much for UK law: this in the US, and we all know they're a strange lot over there :o)

Isn't there quite a market in the States for secret cameras for keeping an eye on child-minders ("nanny cams") and such. Are those legal? Maybe so if you plant the camera in your own house.

Re:This is really nothing new. (2)

Sjsop (133687) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401916)

The bottom line is that, under current law, federal law enforcement can seize your entire business with little or no judicial oversight, you have no right to appeal, and no right to due process. It happens all the time, and noone cares because it's just the drug-dealers and the hackers whining about it, right?

Wrong. SJG did successfully sue the US Secret Service for the raid. As I remember the award was pitifully small -- I would have like to have seen damages on the order of seven or eight digits, just as a warning to other Luddite law enforcement agents to think twice before doing it again -- but it was enough to morph the Illuminati BBS into Illuminati Online (

I won't say it wasn't painful, because it was, and there was some doubt as to whether the company would survive. It does, however, serve as an example or how the little guy (we were pretty small potatoes at the time), once in a while and when he's in the right, can stand up to the government and win. I'd like to think this would help Ramsey, and maybe it will, but the circumstances were somewhat different -- Ramsey is an electronics manufacturer, and SJG is a publisher, and the rules change dramatically when you're contemplating executing search warrants on a publisher. Freedom of the press and all that.

Anyway, I just thought I'd pass that along.

Creede Lambard
Former sjsop, Illuminati BBS
(yes, I was there when the raid happened)

No one is responsible anymore (2)

dattaway (3088) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401917)

Its not just the government, its the media and anyone else that wants to ride them.

It seems like media outlets like CNN in quests of higher ratings are going to bed with these agencies, unloading us with sensationalist "news" of dubious references. I see without proper references stories describing raids of "suspects" backed up by "sources say..." "the FBI uncovered..." "authorities disclosed..." Seems like no one individual is responsible these days for anything. Its those damn three letter agencies.

The government is being taken for a ride and we are the ultimate victims. Patents. Zoning. Taxes. Those who have money will leverage the government to favor them and control the FBI, IRS, CNN, MSNBC, etc. Very few take responsibility in these super organisations anymore and promote growth like cancer.

Read About the ACLU's Stance on This!! (2)

adubey (82183) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401918)

According to the ACLU, enforcing gun control requires search-and-seizure. Check out

Search-and-seizure is exactly what happened here - it's breaking the same rights. And yes, I agree, anyone who mentions WWII *should* be spanked. Search-and-seizure is bad, but it isn't the same as death camps.

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (2)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401919)

I'm going off memory here (and it's been awhile), but I Godwin's law has nothing to do with winning or losing. It merely states that the probability of Hitler being mentioned in a thread is proportional to the nubmer of messges in the thread; as the thread grows, the probability of Hitler being mentioned approaches 1.

Re:Protecting the Citizens (2)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401920)

Of course, the Feds in this case went a little bit beyond the call of duty. Let's examine the points where the Feds acted more like the goon squad:

'You can trust us.': Of course, no good cop would ever want to expose themselves to this sort of liability. Nothing would have been harmed by letting the business verify the gear being confiscated ; I would have refused to sign off on it. What Ramsey should have done was run home and grab a camcorder so he could prove that they tried to get away with this.

'If you don't cooperate with us, we'll shut you down': Again, federal agents acting like thugs. Not acceptible; again, if Ramsey could prove this, it would be another problem for the Feds (gee, I wonder if they bugged their own offices....) This is actually probably the worst offense -- it's a slap in the face to due process.

'[They] asked for a recommendation for a good local restaurant and were on their way': I would have sent them to the local grease-hole; none of the agents would have survived if they'd finished their meals... They'd all be dead of heart failure.

That said, blaming the Feds for raiding this place is like blaming fire for buring down your house after you fell asleep smoking. The devices made here did violate US law -- deviced to bug phones and otherwise spy on people. I'm a bit shocked that the Slashdotters are defending the very people who make the gear to strip away our privacy.


Reasons and Problems (1)

Life Blood (100124) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401921)

There are several reasons for this kind of thing happens and they usually stem from 2 causes:


The government is sloooow to act, usually undermanned, and may have no clue what its talking about.

No big news here. The government won't act until it thinks it can make its case, or has no other choice. It doesn't have enough contacts to hear about things quickly and act swiftly. Lets face it our government was designed 200 years ago and it shows, especially during enforcement.

Why was the agent from Buffalo? Because in order to get the closest seven agents they probably had to pull in everyone in the 1.5 hour driving radius (if not a larger area). While the FBI may have enough staff many of the other enforcement branches are woefully undermanned to do their jobs and so they need help from state cops, etc.

Most feds are computer/technology illiterate. How much did the Secret Service know about the internet when it was given internet jurisdiction? Answer: Most of them couldn't tell a computer from a microwave oven. Should they know more? Yes, but frankly how well would you do if you had to become a cop tomorrow and start investigating murders? Probably not any better than they do when its the other way around.

The real problem that the government will never admit its wrong. You will have to go through a extended legal battle to get your equipment back even if they never file charges. This is wrong and it should be corrected. However it also stems from the overwork/ignorance of the enforcement agencies as mentioned above.


It is a business's job to know what laws pertain to their products. It is homework that any good business should do.

If you're a construction company or civil engineer, you better do a complete geological/ecologocial survey of the site beforehand or the EPA will have every right to shut you down when you're half finished to save the habitat of Obscure Delaware Tree Rat. It is their job to do so and your fault because you didn't do your homework. Never assume anything if you can help it.

Likewise if your equipment has a possible use in surruptitious surveillance you damn well better know it and act accordingly. If its in a gray area, then get clarification from the government. If you play your cards right you will become a government asset and they will protect you. If you do not inform them, you are inviting this sort of thing due to their ignorance.

This does not mean that the government can't be just plain wrong, like in the case of Steve Jackson Games. But don't stick it with all the blame when a business may very well have an equal share.

What will stores do to monitor their customers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401922)

The interesting implication of this law seems to be that it would prohibit "security" firms from buying pre-manufactured products. For example, a record(cd?) store near where I live advertises that it is wired with hidden cameras. Now, I have talked to some of the employees and I doubt they would be able to assemble this equiptment on their own. They did not even know who Leonard Cohen was:) So, they probably contract out. This law would seem to cut of the supply of equiptment to the private sector. Another interesting question: Is any baby monitor that isn't an eye sore now illegal?

Um... that's stupid (1)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401923)


"Hey badguys, we're on to you, and looking to bust you. So here's ample notice to move your operation elsewhere so that next week when we show up, you can have all the equipment out of there."

Nice thought though.

Re:Off-Site Backups (2)

Kintanon (65528) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401924)

Of course, the issue here is that the devices being sold were illegal under US law. If you don't like the law, that's one thing, but criticising law enforcement is like criticising fire for burning down your house after you left those candles burning. I also find it amusing that all the geeks who routinely rail against Big Brother also run to protect the people who make their tools (where do you think corporate security buys their gear?)...

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the devices are not illegal under US law. They are only illegal if they are used as surveillance equipment and/or hidden in everyday objects like clocks and smoke alarms. The devices the agents confiscated are used for medical, recreation, and educational purposes every day and are legal in that use. They only become illegal when a customer does something illegal with them. Hence this company is innocent of wrong doing and will be proven so in court, but that will take 5 or 10 years and by that time they will likely have been forced out of business by the government.


Re:Don't Snoop... (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401925)

Why funny, I would say: very insightful...

pirate radio, tools vs. use (1)

agentk (74906) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401926)

it is well known among most radio pirates
that ramsey makes transmitters easily
modifiable to broadast fm signals over a significant range.

likewise, i'm sure they produce many other
products that could be used as a component of
or modified to produce a device or system
that you could use to break the law

so does every gun manufacturer, knife manufacturer, power tool manufacturer, garden supply manufacturer, office supply manufacturer...

these are just useful tools; it should not be against the law to make them, it should be against the law to harm others with them.

Re:Had a bit of a similar experience (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1401927)

Advice: 1. First ask "may I see your badge?" If you have the presence of mind, wirte the name and badge # and name down. 2. Then ask "Do you have a warrent?". If not, then say, "I'm sorry - I'm not going to talk to you or let you in" 3. If they do have a warrent, you have to let them in. Repeat after me "I'm not going to talk to you until after I've spoken to my lawyer" 4. When done, donate a little $$ to the ACLU. Thank them

Re:Gun owners have been living with this already. (2)

mjprobst (95305) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401928)

Uhh, last time I checked, the government has guns enough and legal loopholes enough to do whatever it wants without justification. The law might say "no" to something, but the forty-two layers of agencies and regulations that are used to enforce these laws leave enough room for _anything_ to happen.

Many have been on the receiving end of these technically illegal actions by the government, and without millions of dollars up-front to pay a good lawyer, or a good media angle that can be exploited by groups such as the ACLU, they just can't be defended against effectively.

I hate to take the discussion here but... (3)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 14 years ago | (#1401929)

why is this such a big deal? Because it was an "electronics" company? The feds have been overzealous in enforcement of certain laws in the past, especially in the months before an ELECTION YEAR.

Federal agents have done things as low as shooting a naked man in his bathtub, awakened a woman at 4 a.m. and shot her when she tried to protect herself, slammed pregnant women into walls; abdomen first, stomped kittens to death, shot a 14 year old boy in the back with a 9mm submachinegun as he ran away, shot an unarmed woman in the face as she held her baby in her arms, and I could go on for hours about this.

Why does this case warrant our interest? Because their kits sparked interest in people to become engineers? So what? These guys have to investigate every legitimate claim that they get. What are the supposed to do, walk up to the front door and say "Hey, are you guys doing anything illegal in there? Oh, ok, we'll be leaving then." No, the purpose of the warrant is so that they can examine private proterty to determine if there is something illegal going on.

If it turns out that they did nothing wrong, then they'll get their equipment back. If not, then they sue.

Feds intimidating someone and in general being dickheads is not a reason for all of this outrage. Were they smashing the joint up? Were they pushing people around?

Relax, haven't you people ever dealt with law enforcement types before?

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