Press Release

Jamming Prison Cell Phones Threatens Public Safety, Groups Tell Senate

July 14, 2009 , , ,

A day in advance of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on legislation (S. 251) to allow interference with cellular phones in prisons, nine public interest groups and consumer organizations told the Committee in a July 14 letter that the legislation would cause more serious problems than it would solve.

“Public Knowledge et al., Letter in Opposition to S.251, The Safe Prison Communications Act (SPCA)”

“Jamming prison cell phones would jeopardize public safety because there is no way to jam only phones used by prisoners. All wireless communications could be shut down within a prison,” said Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge, adding, “Jamming won’t work. You can beat jammers with a few pieces of tin foil. We have better ways of dealing with the problem. Feld also warned: “Once such a jamming device is built, it will inevitably become available on a wider basis. Who knows what chaos that will cause?”
According to the letter, “Only a complete prohibition on cell phone jammers has successfully limited the sale and deployment of them in this country. Despite their availability in other countries, use of cell phone jammers in this country is forced underground and does little to interfere with commercial or public safety wireless use.” The threat of widespread jammers is one reason commercial and public safety licensees oppose the attempts of one company, CellAntenna, to deploy the technology.

The letter noted that there is no reason to believe that only signals from certain phones can be blocked: “As spectrum experts have explained, jamming contraband cell phone signals without jamming authorized communications presents an extremely difficult engineering challenge. Cell phone signals use many bands, often proximate to or shared with public safety operations.”

As alternatives, the groups suggested instead beefing up prison security to make certain prisoners don’t get telephones and making certain that telephone rates for prisoners are reasonable.
The letter noted: “As documented in a recent report by the Media Justice Fund and Funding Exchange, it can cost the family of a prison inmate $300 a month in collect charges to maintain minimal contact with an imprisoned father, mother, son or daughter. As further documented in Wired Magazine, the high cost of authorized telephone calls makes renting contraband cell phones in prison a lucrative business for prisoners and guards alike. While lowering the coast of legal phone calls between prisoners and families will not entirely eliminate the incentive to smuggle in contraband cell phones, it will help reduce the incentive and make the existing problem far more manageable.”

A brief video on the issue is here: https://www.publicknowledge.org/node/2539