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Prison Phone Jam? Consumer Group Urges No

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By Admin on July 15, 2009 7:03 AM

Digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge has come out against recent proposals to jam cell phone signals in prisons. While cell phones have become a top listed security concern for prisons, the risks that go along with allowing phone jamming could outweigh any safety benefit to be had.

As detailed in this Wired article, cell phones in prisons have become a security problem both in the US and abroad. Amongst the threats that have been reported: use of phone to threaten and harass witnesses or victims, ordering hits from within prison and calling in bomb threats.

However, one proposed tool to combat prison cell phones has drawn concerns from the telecom industry, safety groups and digital rights advocates. That proposal: to jam the cell phone signals in prisons.

Currently, doing so would be illegal. The Telecommunications Act of 1934 forbids the jamming of radio signals (which includes cell phone signals).

Legislation has been introduced to allow the Federal Communications Commission to grant waivers that would allow phone jamming in prisons.

As reported by the New York Times, officials from no less than two dozen states recently recently signed South Carolina's request to the FCC that it be allowed to phone jam its prisons.

Telecom companies fear the ability to do so without interrupting the service of paying customers nearby.

Additionally, Public Knowledge outlined these 4 reasons why prison phone jamming would be a bad idea:

  1. Cell phone jamming may not work as planned. Many jammers can be defeated by tin foil. Further, the same guards that smuggle most phones into prison may also be able to disable jammers.
  2. It would likely interfere with legal communications, including: outside safety frequencies, outside cell phone users and prison personnel phone calls.
  3. Opening a loophole for phone jamming devices will make it easier and more likely for the wrong people to get ahold of them.
  4. Other technologies can be used to allow only approved communications, perhaps involving coordination with cell network operators.

Public Knowledge also points out that the majority of calls from prison cell phones go to prisoners' families. Increasing the ability for prisoners to keep up with family (without pricey collect calls) might decrease demand for contraband phones.