Behind the bars

Drugs and weapons are not the only contraband found during a cell toss; cellular phones also run rampant through our correctional system - posing more trouble than a dropped call

     In response, the CTIA-The Wireless Association, an international nonprofit organization, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to cancel the demonstration. In its petition, the CTIA claims that "Operation of such 'jamming technology' is flatly illegal under Section 333 of the Communication Act, and the commission lacks the statutory to authorize violations of this congressional directive protecting the rights of authorized users of the wireless spectrum. Moreover, the decision to authorize the demonstration — made without notice to the public or affected parties, without opportunity for comment, without consideration of any evidence regarding the potential consequences to legitimate transmission of operating the contemplated technology, and with no exigent public-safety need — is the very essence of arbitrary and capricious decision-making."

     In a different request for demonstration approval, the FCC denied the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections demonstration request. Written February 18, the letter states, "We find that the proposed jamming would violate both the Communications Act of 1934, as amended ... as well as the Commission's rules."

Congressional action

     Initializing the required governmental action to combat the issue, a bill was introduced to Congress January 14. This bill, sponsored by Brady and Senator Kay Hutchinson (R-Texas) is titled "The Safe Prisons Act: To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to permit targeted interference with mobile radio services within prison facilities" (H.R. 560 or S.251). It hopes to create a common sense and narrow exception that allows state law enforcement to petition FCC for waiver to block those signals. Brady explains that the bill describes "jamming must only take place within the prison boundaries, and include specific instructions to the FCC to make sure that any jamming will not disrupt wireless signals outside the prisons." However, industry groups had not endorsed the bill, he notes.

     Commenting on its inspiration, "State, law and prison officials ought to be able to block those cell phone signals without interfering with the general public or emergency use," he adds.

     The bill includes stipulations on how the jamming technology could be delivered to correctional facilities. Brady explains that providers will be notified when a prison petitions for a waiver. Stipulations include that the jamming device can't interfere with public safety communications and does not penetrate outside the prison's wall. If either of these situations happens, the wireless provider then notifies the FCC and that prison must immediately stop its jamming — the FCC then investigates the interference.

     The bill introduces a rule-making process, in which the commission will determine the types of technology that can be used. A secondary process will then allow the cell jamming companies to submit their devices for certification to identify usable devices. Once in place, individual correctional facilities can then submit waiver requests to operate the jamming technology.

     Supportive of the legislation, "We believe that with the authority to implement and use that technology we can significantly use that technology to, if not completely, eliminate … cell phone transmissions within the prisons," says Camp.

     "The corrections community — at the state, local and federal level — are united and are working closely with the Congress to move the legislation forward," he adds.

     Putting the issue succinctly, the National Institute of Corrections seems to have the topic down to the issue's most simple argument: "Currently, it's illegal."

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