A controversial cell-phone jamming demonstration that was scheduled by the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) was cancelled last week but the debate over its use appears to be just heating up.

The DOC was supposed to demonstrate cell-phone jamming technology from vendor CellAntenna on Jan. 8 and it sought approval from the FCC to do so, noting that inmates use contraband cell phones while in custody to “engage in highly pernicious behavior” such as intimidating witnesses and coordinating criminal activity. The FCC approved the demonstration, which was supposed to demonstrate that directional jamming could be used to stop cell-phone signals within a detention facility without harming other communications signals. The Cellular Telecommunication & Internet Association (CTIA), the trade association that represents the commercial mobile carrier industry, opposed the FCC’s move and took the matter to a federal appeals court to block the demonstration, describing the FCC’s approval of the demonstration as illegal and the “very essence of arbitrary and capricious agency decision-making.” The U.S. Court of Appeals directed the FCC to respond to CTIA’s filing, but the DOC cancelled the demonstration before it could do so.

While noting the DOC’s intention to limit jamming only to the walls of its correctional facility—the condition on which the FCC granted the demonstration—CTIA said “there has not been a shred of evidence presented to the commission that the demonstration will not interfere with legitimate uses of the wireless spectrum, including those beyond the facility.”

However, the South Carolina Department of Corrections demonstrated cell-phone jamming technology from CellAntenna back in November and claimed that the technology did indeed jam signals inside the prison without blocking service for people on the outside, according to a report from a South Carolina news station. The prison plans to ask the FCC for permission to conduct a longer term pilot program in the state’s prisons. And state prison officials there also want South Carolina’s U.S. senators to introduce legislation to allow local law enforcement agencies to use jamming technology. Texas prisons want cell-phone jamming technology too.

On Friday, The New York Times reported that New York public-safety officials are studying the feasibility of using cell-phone jamming technology to prevent terrorist attacks after it was discovered that gunmen in Mumbai, India, used satellite phones to coordinate their killings in November. During a Senate hearing late last week, police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly raised the possibility of using jamming technology but noted there were technical hurdles to jamming signals in narrow locations.

“Law enforcement needs to find ways to disrupt cellphones and other communications” during a crisis like the one in Mumbai, he said. He stressed that caution must be taken in pursuing such plans so that the technology doesn’t keep emergency personnel or keep civilians from making emergency calls.

Understandably, CTIA opposes the idea of cell-phone jamming, saying the practice would have unintended implications, such as jamming up 911 calls and of course disrupting cell-phone signals for millions of customers, which in turn could disrupt the businesses of the mobile-phone operators they represent.

But this sticky issue isn’t going away, and the most interesting part is folks don’t exactly know what entities have the authority to govern cell-phone jamming. While the FCC granted the D.C. Department of Corrections a waiver to test the technology, it purportedly didn’t have the authority to do so. The Communications Act of 1934 governs this, and state and local governments apparently should be asking Congress for permission. But it appears that the FCC could initiate a petition for rulemaking to allow state and local governments to use jamming equipment. Hopefully, this will be an issue lawmakers are willing to tackle this year, as state and local governments continue to push the envelope on the issue.

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