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Interference with Satellite

18 U.S.C. § 1367 - Interference with the Operation of a Satellite

With the advent of satellite technology, global communication has become more immediate and vital, making it highly important to safeguard these communications.

Interference with the operation of a satellite can be disruptive at best and potentially harmful or fatal if the communications are sensitive or urgent. Thus, interfering with the operation of a satellite is a serious crime under Title 18 U.S. Code 1367.

Interference with the Operation of a Satellite - 18 U.S.C. § 1367

This statute falls under the category of “malicious mischief.” Specific mischief and misconduct can result in federal charges when a defendant behaves maliciously.

18 U.S.C. 1367 says, “(a) Whoever, without the authority of the satellite operator, intentionally or maliciously interferes with the authorized operation of a communications or weather satellite or obstructs or hinders any satellite transmission shall be fined in accordance with this title or imprisoned….”

(b) This section does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency or of an intelligence agency of the United States.”

Federal criminal charges mean you could potentially be sentenced to federal prison, sometimes for a lengthy period. Thus, you must have legal representation from a federal criminal defense lawyer who can give you the best chance of avoiding a conviction.

If you are charged with this crime and convicted, you could face up to 10 years in federal prison. Let's review this federal law in more detail below.

Overview of 18 U.S.C. 1367

Title 18 U.S. Code 1367 aims to protect critical satellite infrastructure essential for communications, navigation, and many other aspects of modern life. Under the law, it is a crime to "intentionally or maliciously" do either of the following without authorization from the satellite operator:

  • To interfere with the authorized operation of a communications or weather satellite; or
  • To obstruct or hinder any satellite transmission, either from the satellite to the ground or from the ground to the satellite.

As noted, this law falls under “malicious mischief” and other crimes in Title 18, Chapter 65, listed below.

An exception to the rule 

18 U.S.C. 1367 does not prohibit authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of law enforcement or investigators, meaning any disruptions of satellite communications during such an investigation is permitted under law.

What Are the Elements of the Offense?

To be convicted under Title 18 U.S. Code 1367, the prosecution must prove three main elements beyond a reasonable doubt, as discussed below.

Interference with Operation of Satellite


The defendant must have knowingly and willfully intended to interfere with the operation of a satellite. This means that the interference was not accidental but a purposeful act to disrupt or damage the satellite's functioning.


The defendant must have interfered with the satellite's operation. This includes various activities, such as jamming signals, hacking into satellite systems, or physically damaging the satellite or its components.

Satellite Operation

The interference must have affected the satellite's operation, including its ability to communicate, navigate, or perform other essential tasks. However, it is not necessary to prove that the interference caused significant harm or damage; any level of disruption is sufficient for a conviction.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 65 Malicious Mischief has several federal statutes related to 18 U.S.C. 1367 interference with the operation of a satellite, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1361 - Government property or contracts;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1362 - Communication lines, stations, or systems;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1363 - Buildings or property in territorial jurisdiction;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1364 - Interference with foreign commerce by violence;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1365 - Tampering with consumer products; 
  • 18 U.S.C. 1366 - Destruction of an energy facility; 
  • 18 U.S.C. 1368 - Harming animals used in law enforcement;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1369 - Destruction of veterans' memorials.

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S. C. 1367?

Violations of this law can result in severe penalties if you are convicted. The specific penalties are as follows:

  • Imprisonment: A person convicted under this statute may be imprisoned for up to ten years.
  • Fines: In addition to imprisonment, the court may impose a fine upon conviction of up to $250,000. The actual amount of the fine may vary depending on the extent of the interference and its impact on the satellite's operations.
  • Restitution: Courts may also order the defendant to pay restitution to the satellite's owner or operator to compensate for any financial losses incurred due to the interference.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S. C. 1367?

There are several viable defenses that a federal defense attorney may raise in response to charges under Title 18 U.S. Code 1367. Some of these are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of intent. For example, a defendant may argue that they did not knowingly and willfully interfere with the operation of a satellite. If the defendant can demonstrate that the interference was accidental or unintended, this may be sufficient to negate the intent element of the offense.

Perhaps we can argue there was unintentional interference. Sometimes, a defendant may claim that the interference was incidental and resulted from an unrelated activity. For example, a person conducting a legitimate scientific experiment that inadvertently interfered with a satellite's operation may not be held criminally liable under Title 18 U.S. Code 1367.

Perhaps we can argue there was no actual interference. If the defendant's actions did not actually interfere with the satellite's normal functioning, they may not be found guilty under this statute.

California Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

Perhaps we can argue there was a mistake of fact. If the defendant can prove that they reasonably believed their actions would not interfere with the satellite's operation, they may be able to establish a mistake of fact defense.

Perhaps we can argue a necessity defense. In rare cases, a defendant may argue that the interference was necessary to prevent more significant harm. This defense, known as the "necessity defense," requires the defendant to show that they had no reasonable alternative to the interference and that the potential harm prevented was greater than the harm caused by the interference.

Perhaps we can argue you were under duress. A defendant may claim they were under duress during the interference, meaning they were forced to engage in illegal activity due to threats or coercion from another person.

If the defendant can prove that they had a reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of others, this may serve as a valid defense. You can contact our law firm to review the case details by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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