Feds Look At Jamming Mobile Phones In Prison

from the hope-you're-not-a-guard-during-a-riot... dept

Discussions over mobile phone jamming seems to get pretty controversial pretty fast. The technology is technically illegal in the US (except for the government), but that hasn’t stopped some from using the tech anyway. Plenty of businesses have tried to get exceptions to the law. Movie theaters, in particular, have petitioned the government in the past for the right to jam mobile phones and a maker of jamming equipment has claimed that banning the technology is unconstitutional. Of course, the problem is that there may be legitimate reasons to use a mobile phone (emergencies, anyone?) and jammers don’t discriminate. The collateral damage of mobile phone jamming could be a big deal.

However, there’s one other area that has pushed for jammers for a long time: prisons. Mobile phones have become popular contraband equipment in prison, and there are frequent stories of prisoners regularly using mobile phones to communicate with the outside world. So, now, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is apparently planning to investigate if it makes sense to jam mobile phones in prison. I’m not sure why this isn’t coming from the FCC, though it sounds like a bit of a political football, where a bill that would grant the FCC that power stalled out in Congress. I can understand the desire to block mobile phone usage in prisons, but jamming seems like a sledge hammer type of solution, that could cause problems for others (guards?) who might need mobile phones to work.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Feds Look At Jamming Mobile Phones In Prison”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
McCrea says:

As a youth I thought the idea was to separate convicts from the public, which may be a fine idea, thus jamming cell phones in prison would be good.

However, my founding thought is mostly false. Prisoners are not completely removed from society. The have postal and Internet access, so they might as well have phones too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Prison Phones are Big Money

This is all about money. You can only call collect from a prison and the rates are massively inflated. You also can’t call mobiles from prison phones because of these huge charges.

Prisoners with mobile phones cost the Prison Industrial Complex money.

This law will pass unnoticed because no one cares.

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Could it be because the never ceasing efforts of the ACLU made it illegal to search them or their visitors?

Definitely one of the most idiotic comment I’ve ever read. It isn’t even slightly illegal to search an inmate after a visit. But they still get things inside because inmates are fairly creative at hiding things, and guards are notoriously easy to bribe.

DJ (profile) says:

The real question...

Does it matter? The answer depends on the level of conviction. For example, convicted felons are henceforth stripped of certain societal privelages. Some are restored when they are release (like driving); some are not (LIKE VOTING, [let’s keep it that way]).
Those serving time for “lesser crimes”, however, have all of their privelages restored when they’re released.
There are also a lot of other contraband items that aren’t allowed in prison. Few, if any, however, allow them to directly contactthe outside world. To which I say: Jam the phones! They’re in fucking prison, not the Hilton! The reason they’re there is because they violated the law, and life is SUPPOSED to be tough! Fuck ’em!

Cynyr (profile) says:

Of course, the problem is that there may be legitimate reasons to use a mobile phone (emergencies, anyone?)

OMG! what ever shall we do?! surly not use “emergency” phones that could be installed outside the door of each screen in a bright yellow box? these phones could even have a nice connection direct to 911 and 911 could even know which screen goes with which phone. So really no good reason to have a (working) phone in a movie.

Blenster (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You are correct; guards must leave their phones in their cars, locked up, if they bring them at all. My father works at a prison and doesn’t even bother taking his to work at all. A jammer would help prevent the gang-related activities carried out with contraband phones. Prison phones are monitored and recorded so their exclusive use goes beyond just “money”.

PhilD (profile) says:

Perhaps there is a better approach.

The common “excuse” is that prisoners can use the unrestricted communications to continue their illegal activities from within the prison walls and that is why the call on the payphones are always recorded unless of course the call is between a prisoner and his or her lawyer (and how that is managed, I do not know).

If the prison systems were to “allow” the cellphone tower operators to put cells on each prison and allow the prisoners calls to be tapped exactly the same way as the ridiculously expensive payphones are, then there could be no excuse.

Avoiding nearby residents from being “tapped” by these towers would be quite easy, the current crop of cell antenna arrays is extremely directional and tunable.
One could even go so far as to allow local residents to have their cellphones unique ids added to a list that would disallow them from using the “prison cells” at all.

But of course the real reason is that the prison industrial complex makes a great deal of money off of the prisoners families with really unbelievably expensive call rates so this will never happen.

Rick says:


I was under the impression that towers could triangulate your position. Couldn’t the phone company just not accept phone calls within the prison walls?

How about GPS – can’t that tell you where the call is coming from too?

Jamming could block calls just outside the prison walls – which would not be good for anyone living nearby.

Lisae Boucher (profile) says:

It seems to me that it makes more sense to put some hardware inside prisons that can pinpoint the exact locations of all mobile phones in the area. It could then be used to catch the prisoners who are hiding their mobile phones and to give them an additional fine/punishment for keeping contraband in their prison cell.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to put such hardware in place.

Blenster (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The phones have to be on to be detected by most equipment and the make-up of the walls and heavy use of metal (bars, etc.) can also interfere with detection equipment. They do perform searches for contraband from time to time and when they find stuff like that they confiscate it and generally punish the offender. A local-area jammer would make the phones useless and therefore worthless to the prisoners, removing their desire to acquire them (as another poster mentioned above, generally from guards, believe it or not…).

wigby (user link) says:

This problem is not going away with signal jamming...

Full disclosure: I own a wireless test equipment company that sells Bloodhound, a cellphone detector currently used by many state and county prisons.

There are 3 ways to discourage or prevent contraband cellphone use:
cellphone sniffing dogs – expensive (up to $5k / day), not very covert and easily foiled by hiding phones among strong scents.
signal jamming – currently illegal and also does nothing to detect or locate contraband cellphones. A civil liability for prisons involving not only prisoners but local residents, guards and nearby businesses.
cellphone detection – these handheld devices can covertly detect and even locate cellphones while in use or even in standby mode. We actually found a cellphone hidden in a hollowed-out, fake brick in a wall in standby mode.

Barbara says:

Why not let them have them and use 21st century technology to control who they can call?

Instead of making them illegal to possess, why not let the prisons take control of them? Sell them in their “stores”, have them programed with “parental controls” :-), give them the equipment to monitor the calls. Inmates need to be encouraged to maintain their links with positive influences in the outside world. Most of them will get out eventually. Society wants them to become productive members of society once they have completed their “punishment”. Research has shown that those who have strong family support and maintain that connection with the outside world have a much higher success rate when they are released. They are allowed to call preapproved numbers on the prison phones. The cell phones could be similarly managed. There are those who would manage to figure out a way to abuse them, but if they had the technology to monitor them, they might have a much better chance of locating those people while allowing those who want to use them legitimately to do so. Those who are determined to continue their criminal behavior while behind bars, will find a way to do so. Not everyone who is locked up is a “career criminal”. Lots are just regular folks who made stupid decisions that they are paying the consequences for. As a society, it is in our best interest for them to be successfully reintegrated into society when they get out. Let’s use our wonderful technology in a positive way, both for those who run the prisons and the prisoners. IMHO

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

Cell phone detection

Cell phones should not be hard to detect. They put out strongly pulsed RF signals at high enough power levels to interfere with nearby electronic equipment (producing a distinctive buzzing noise on radios, stereos, sound systems etc.). Cell phones check in with the tower at periodic intervals even when not in use, and a device tuned to cell phone frequencies with a directional antenna and signal strength meter could very easily detect and locate any cell phone in its vicinity.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...