State Correctional Systems Unite,
Ask To Jam Cell Phone Signals
[From SCDC press release today]
Twenty-five other states, the Philadelphia Prison System and D.C. Department of Corrections have signed a S.C. Department of Corrections’ petition that asks the Federal Communications Commission for permission to jam cell phone signals in prisons. [UPDATE: with the addition of Texas, now 26 states.]
The petition was drafted with assistance from Michael Marcus, former associate chief for technology at the FCC, and was submitted today. It explains in technical terms how jamming can be carried out in prisons without interfering with any cell phone signals off of prison property.
The S.C. Department of Corrections hosted a successful demonstration of cell phone jamming technology in November, where members of the media and corrections professionals from around the country saw that surgical jamming technology works: phones inside a prison facility were rendered useless with no interference to phones outside of the facility or to law enforcement radios.
Unfortunately, FCC regulators refused to attend and have yet to even respond to the agency’s request to continue using it.
Jamming cell phone signals is outlawed by present FCC Rules. Already federal law enforcement agencies are exempt from the act’s prohibition.
Prisons, jails and detention centers need the same latitude. Incarcerated convicts are using smuggled cell phones to threaten and kill witnesses, deal drugs and continue other criminal enterprises from behind bars. While cell phone detection devices and search dogs are helpful, they are more expensive and less effective than jamming, they require too much manpower, and cover too little ground to effectively stop inmates in large prisons from using cell phones.
Critics of cell phone jamming in the wireless industry have said they want to work with prison officials to solve the problem. This petition addresses the industry’s concerns with signal interference outside prisons and includes mechanisms to measure and prevent signal disruption.
“Prison systems from every corner of this country, from Georgia to New York to California to South Dakota, have signed this petition,” S.C. Corrections Director Jon Ozmint said. “These are the people who understand prison best and who realize just how dangerous it is for an inmate to possess a cell phone. We hope that the FCC will take appropriate action to allow prisons to jam cell phones. But, if not we expect that Congress will eventually take such action. We only hope that they will do so before more innocent lives are lost.”
The petition includes the following proposals to prevent "unintended consequences" that would impact other users:
• Jamming should be subject to a license with strict eligibility requirements which require approval of a coordinator who verifies eligibility, coordinates with nearby CMRS licensees, and reviews the technical details of the proposed installation.
• Jamming must result in no harmful interference on any CMRS users outside the property of correctional facilities. Thus, there will be no impact on E-9-1-1 systems.
• Jamming must result in no harmful interference on any legal non-CMRS spectrum user anywhere - licensed or unlicensed.
• Strict technical standards and equipment authorization procedures should be implemented for all jamming equipment.
• The sale of jamming equipment must be strictly controlled and limited to state and local governments with direct shipment of equipment from the manufacturer/importer to the FCC licensed correctional facility where it is to be used.
• Equipment must be permanently labeled with a warning of criminal penalties if used without a license and a requirement to return to manufacturer/importer for destruction.
• Eligibility requirements should be strict and preclude any "slippery slope" expansion. The cornerstone of Petitioners' proposed eligibility requirement is that the licensee must show that possession and use of cell phones within the area covered by jamming is illegal under state and/or local law. This distinction clearly differentiates correctional facilities from other locations where owners and managers might wish to block CMRS communications for various reasons.
SC The State
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation hearing 7/15/09
(Includes video of hearing)