Readers offered many thoughtful responses to a column I wrote recently about whether cell-phone jamming ought to be legal in light of the fact that such devices can be altered to trigger explosives and jails are grappling with cell phones as a form of electronic contraband. I argued that as cell phones continue to proliferate, so will the ways they can threaten the public’s safety, as well as those sworn to serve and protect, and that it’s time to begin exploring ways the public-safety community can stop nefarious uses of wireless devices, whether that is through cell-phone jamming or another technology.

I’m sharing with you some of the thought-provoking comments I received about the topic. What I agree with the most from these comments is that very strict guidelines should accompany any cell-phone jamming strategies, or we could easily see too many people abuse the power. Some readers flat-out believe allowing jamming of any kind is simply too dangerous as it could infringe on the rights of citizens. At any rate, here is a sampling of the comments I received, edited for length.

“Bad idea. Too many people use cell phones as their only phone service. What would happen to their ability to make a call—emergency or otherwise—if they reside next to a possible target venue? If the prisons have a problem, then they should get a court order to identify [cell phones] operating in a geographical area (prison), confirm it is a contraband phone and have it disconnected--all under the supervision of the courts. If cell phone jamming is allowed, what's next? Do we ban ownership of any transmitters? And after that, will we start calling each other ‘Comrade?’”

“OK, now you have the legislated the right to jam, for the sake of safety. I can see this turning into the same thing as warrantless searches. Whenever some government agent/department wants to, they can jam our systems here in this country? There are so many RF avenues available for remote detonation, passing legislation for cell phone jamming will only make them move on to another type of RF triggered device. And, we’ll have some more bad legislation on the books.”

“With 911-location services, [preventing] the use of cell phones in restricted areas should be manageable by the service provider. However, with nanocell jamming, the jamming power could be geographically distributed such that it does not in fact interfere with legitimate users. While a prison, for example, might be a small part of one service-provider's cell, a low-powered jamming transmitter might be installed in every ceiling light fixture, with just enough power to prevent cell operations within the pool of light provided by the lamp.”

“I recommend that jamming be allowed but handled in a manner similar to a request for a wiretap—getting an order from a judge for a specific, limited time period for a specified, limited target area. Otherwise, jamming equipment can and will fall into the public's hands and subject the cellular service to irreversible tyranny by a few willful violators. Remember the demise of CB radio a few decades ago when willful interference ruined that service.”

“Interesting market development. I would think that there could be an opportunity for the service provider to charge a fee for blacking out areas. Legitimate organizations could request that cell phones from their property be denied service. Cell companies could use the location technology to deny all but 911 access from that location.”

“Being a technician who services equipment for a state police agency SWAT team, we have expressed a desire to shut down cell and other forms of RF communications to targets our team members want to visit. This would be useful during operations where multiple targets are visited at one time, thus preventing the folks from letting [other] folks know we were coming. To date, we have been denied the ability to utilize jamming, due to the FCC's rules. Any jamming we would do would be of short duration and limited to a very small area.”

Thanks to everyone who wrote. I appreciate the feedback, and the insights. Tech Talk will be taking the next two weeks off during the holidays. We resume publishing on Jan. 7. Happy Holidays!