Equipment that jams cell phones will get its first federally sanctioned test inside a prison in Maryland this week, as state officials try to show Congress how the technology can prevent inmates from using the contraband devices to commit crimes, a governor’s spokesman said Tuesday.
The state wants to show the equipment can be used without interfering with emergency response and legitimate signals outside the prison perimeter, said Shaun Adamec, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s spokesman.
Communication Commission can only allow federal agencies — not state or local authorities — permission to jam cell phone signals. But a bill that passed the Senate and awaits action by the House would allow states to petition the FCC to block the use of cell phones from prisons.
The nation’s prisons are one big step closer Wednesday to being allowed to jam mobile phone signals to keep prisoners from using the phones to commit further crimes, despite strong opposition from digital rights groups that say there are better ways to fight the problem.
The bill — passed by a bi-partisan vote in the Senate Commerce committee — would create the first ever exception to the FCC’s ban on jamming devices.
The measure could be voted on by the full Senate as soon as early as this, before it takes its August break, according to Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the bill’s primary sponsor who is also running for Texas governor.
New York Times’ “ethical advice” columnist Randy Cohen gives his take on RF jammers (like, say, Wave Bubble) in NYT Magazine:
The Phone Ranger
By RANDY COHEN
Published: March 4, 2007
Each day people are more brazen and rude with their cellphones. My husband bought a device that can block the signals of cellphone users who annoy him, although he knows such gizmos are illegal. Isn’t his vigilante behavior worse than that of the rudest cell user? — Name Withheld, Connecticut
Your husband may not stifle someone’s behavior merely because he deems it annoying. So capricious a standard would mean constant peril for people who talk baby-talk to their excessively small dogs. Living among other people requires us to tolerate conduct we find vexing.
Or so my head tells me. But my heart says, Your husband is a hero, an acoustic Robin Hood who robs from the rude and gives blessed silence to the poor in spirit.
I propose these guidelines: If someone is yammering into a cellphone on the pavement and you don’t like it, walk away. It is open public space, and opinions vary about its use. Some people place a lower value on quiet than on prattling about what they saw on TV last night. (An immutable law of nature: The louder the phone voice, the duller the conversation.)
But if someone is using a cellphone in a closed space — on a commuter train, in a restaurant — from which you cannot escape, let the jamming begin. We properly limit our freedom when we harm others. It is the cellphoner’s jabbering that prevents you from reading your book or thinking your thoughts, not the other way around.
Those who control shared closed spaces — a theater, a physician’s waiting room — should jam and disclose. Post a sign that says “No Cellphone Service” so people know what they’re getting into. Anyone anticipating an urgent call can ask to use the land line. For decades, doctors on call did just that, and we all survived. Sadly, this solution — ethical, courteous and humane — is frowned on by the F.C.C., but tell your husband I’ll visit him every week in jail.
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Why bother jamming prison cellphones when it would be much better if you simply intercepted them? I’m not any fan of government eavesdropping, but hear me out: Let’s say you are an inmate who manages via some channel to smuggle a cell phone into prison. This act is probably the *only* case where warantless wiretapipng is anywhere close to justifiable — so let’s say you tap the phone instead of jam or confiscate it … Don’t you think this is going to provide more valuable information to law enforcement than would otherwise be available? Use your common sense for a minute. If you can reasonably identify a call coming from a prisoner illicitly, shouldn’t law enforcement be privy to any information revealed on such call?
So, if it’s basically a given that prisons can detect any cellphone on premises with ridiculous speed and accuracy, why are we even publishing articles about this? Give me 10 minutes and the right equipment and I can find any cellphone in my building! I propose that any decent prison is not only aware of all illicit cellphone use within its confines, but also actively monitors such traffic. It’s almost stupid to assume they don’t. In fact, if they don’t whoever mans their electronic security is a complete dumbass and should immediately be replaced.
I’ve never properly understood this enmity toward people talking on mobiles in public — how is this different to two friends chatting next to you on a bus? Does the annoyance come because you’re forced to listen to only half of the conversation? Lighten up! 🙂