The Global Positioning System (GPS) and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) provide critical positioning, navigation and timing services to users across the globe. However, like other electronics-based systems (and despite industry efforts to bolster the security of these technologies) devices receiving a signal from GNSS satellites could be vulnerable to jamming and spoofing. It is time for the United States to coordinate international efforts to halt the marketing and sale of devices that interfere with GNSS systems.

To be clear, jamming and spoofing are already illegal. In the U.S., the Communications Act of 1934, the U.S. criminal code, and additional federal laws and regulations prohibit tampering with navigational systems, including GPS, cellular and personal communications devices, and police radar systems. However, without international coordination to enforce the laws and regulations already on the books, bad actors will continue to jam and spoof GNSS signals – interfering with critical uses, from personal navigation and agriculture to emergency response and defense. 

Importantly, this interference is not limited to impacting receivers on Earth. Low Earth orbit satellites carry GNSS receivers to improve weather forecasts, predict space weather and monitor changes in climate. These important missions and other scientific research should not be hindered by regulatory inaction or lack of resources.

“There’s nothing wrong with GPS or other GNSS systems. What we need to do is actually enforce the laws prohibiting purposeful interference with them,” U.S. Spectrum Attorney Steve Baruch told me.

This conversation is not new. International and U.S. regulatory bodies have continued to highlight the dangers of such interference and encourage action. During the 2023 World Radiotelecommunications Conference (WRC), Resolution 676 (WRC-23), “Prevention and mitigation of harmful interference to the radionavigation-satellite service in the frequency bands 1164-1215 MHz and 1559-1610 MHz,” was adopted. 

The Resolution notes that the public depends on the Radionavigation Satellite Service (RNSS) for a multitude of aspects of daily life, including “safety-of-life applications, for scientific applications and in many applications and devices around the world and across all sectors of the global economy…” In the resolution, the WRC urged governments “to apply necessary measures to avoid the proliferation, circulation and operation of unauthorized transmitters that cause or have the potential to cause harmful interference to RNSS systems and networks.” The WRC also called upon governments to take action to prevent and mitigate harmful interference affecting RNSS operations, including through “collaboration between spectrum regulators, enforcement authorities and RNSS stakeholders,” especially in the “aeronautical and maritime domains.”

Air carriers and general aviators are particularly concerned with aviation risks posed by jamming and spoofing of GNSS, and U.S. regulators are taking action. On Jan. 25, 2024, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Safety Alert for Operators, “Recognizing and Mitigating Global Positioning System/Global Navigation Satellite System Disruptions.” The alert notes that GPS jamming and spoofing activities are occurring globally, “in and around conflict zones, military operation areas, and counter unmanned aircraft systems protection” and “pose a potential safety of flight risk to civil aviation.” The alert also highlights the impacts of these disruptions, including “potential loss of situational awareness and an increase of pilot and Air Traffic Control (ATC) workload issues.” With an already strained air traffic control workload, regulators must minimize disruptions and enforce existing laws.

Beyond the FAA, other U.S. government agencies are taking steps to crack down on illegal jamming and spoofing. The Federal Communication Commission’s March 21 confirmation that it is investigating alleged marketing and selling of such devices is welcome news. The GPS Innovation Alliancehas regularly reported prohibited interference activities that threaten public safety and security to the FCC’s Public Safety Interference Portal. Our most recent report on Feb. 20 identified the existence of two online sites dedicated to selling jammers and spoofers, each with a social media presence. The GPS Innovation Alliance wholly supports giving additional resources to the FCC to pursue investigations, collaborate with international partners and work with retailers to develop strategies to more effectively police third party vendors that are marketing and selling devices used for illegal jamming and spoofing.

The opportunity exists for regulators across the globe to work together to enforce laws put into place to protect public safety and security from illegal jamming and spoofing devices. A model exists for such an international coordination effort: the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. This Department of Homeland Security-led organization works with global law enforcement, regulators, retailers and other industry representatives to protect public safety and combat illicit trade. The same attention can and should be placed against purveyors of illicit jammers and spoofers that interfere with vital public safety, national security, and commercial GNSS devices. 

Lisa Dyer is currently the Executive Director of the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA) which serves as the voice of the GPS industry, representing GPS equipment and technology manufacturers and critical industries that rely on GPS. She has over 25 years of experience as a leader at the intersection of public policy, national security, business and technology, and has served in roles in both the public and private sector. Dyer began her career in the U.S. Air Force and later worked at the U.S. Department of State, where she gained extensive experience in space policy.

Lisa Dyer is currently the Executive Director of the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA) which serves as the voice of the GPS industry, representing GPS equipment and technology manufacturers and critical industries that rely on GPS. She has over 25 years...