Bills Introduced to Permit Prisons to Use Cell Phone Jammers


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Lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation to prevent contraband cell phone use in prisons. The measure sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), allows state and federal prisons to use cell phone jamming systems. Representative David Kustoff (R-TN) and William Timmons (R-SC) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The use of contraband cell phones is widespread in both federal and state prison facilities, say corrections officials. More than 14,000 devices were confiscated in California prisons in 2017. Inmates have used contraband cell phones to conduct illegal activities, including ordering hits on individuals outside of the prison walls, running illegal drug operations, conducting illegal business deals, and organizing escapes which endanger correctional employees, other inmates, and members of the public, say corrections officials and lawmakers.

The Cell Phone Jamming Reform Act gives state and federal prisons the authority to implement a jamming system within the prison. They must report that use to the Bureau of Prisons, which will have the ultimate authority over the system.

This bill is not a mandate, but an option for prison officials. It allows authorities to choose from a broad category of jamming technology, which includes managed access technology, surgical jamming technology, beacon technology, or any future technology that would curb the use of contraband cell phones. It does not prescribe the specific types of technology that must be used by the facilities.

In the past, the FCC has cited a decades-old prohibition on interrupting signals at state-level institutions preventing the agency from allowing cell phone jammers. Prison officials have pushed for the ability to use them.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last year challenged wireless carriers to get involved in the effort. Pai held a field hearing in South Carolina and at FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. with members of Congress, prison officials and wireless industry representatives, Inside Towers reported.

After the 2018 meeting, Rep. Kustoff told the Associated Press, he was encouraged by the Commission’s actions. Representatives from CTIA also attended. They thanked Pai for organizing the meetings and said their members, “recognize the very real threat that contraband devices pose in correctional facilities across the nation, and we appreciate the commitment of all stakeholders to identify and implement lawful solutions to this problem.”

Officials in January 2018, conducted cell phone jamming technology in a federal prison in western Maryland. Previously, the problem has been lack of control over the signal coverage area; the issue is, how to jam the illegal cell phone signals inside the prison but not interfere with legitimate cell signals just outside the prison walls, such as those from first responders. Proponents of those tests said at the time, the technology had advanced and the range was now more predictable.  Comments? Email Us.

April 2, 2019           

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