CTIA seeks alternatives to cell jamming in prisons
Commercial wireless trade association CTIA is working with Maryland corrections officials to rid jails and prisons of contraband cell phones without the use of signal jamming equipment, which wireless carriers fear will block legitimate cellular service and public-safety communications.
“While we oppose the use of jammers, we 100% support and want to do everything in our power to prevent wireless use in jails,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA’s vice president for regulatory affairs.
Instead of using jamming equipment — generally illegal in the United States — CTIA engineers hope to conduct pilots with Maryland to pursue other avenues to halt illegal cell-phone communications from prisons, Guttman-McCabe said. One potential method is cell-detection technology.
“If someone turns on a cell phone, it is identified [and located],” Guttman-McCabe said. “So [officials] can find the phone and confiscate it, they can fingerprint it, they can trap it and trace it, they can find out who’s giving these phones, they can see what the last 20 numbers that were called — basic police work. Whereas, if they have a jammer, all they’re doing is preventing the use of the phone in some area.”
Prisoners are not supposed to have cell phones while incarcerated, but contraband devices have appeared in prisons and jails frequently. Prisoners reportedly have used the communication tools to conduct illegal behavior, including continuing to lead criminal operations or to threaten key witnesses.
To combat this, many officials in states such as Maryland have expressed interest in using jamming equipment that would make it impossible for the illegal cell phones to communicate. But CTIA has staunchly opposed such measures, noting that jamming efforts likely would leave areas within a corrections facility that were no jammed — thereby allowing calls to be made — or that the jamming signal would extend beyond the walls of the facility, hindering the ability for citizens and public safety to communicate.
In an interview earlier this year, CellAntenna CEO Howard Melamed said his company’s jamming solution is sensitive enough not to impact signals outside a defined area and that it can even block signals from a Sprint Nextel 800 MHz phone without harming LMR communications on interleaved spectrum.
In addition, Melamed said he believes wireless carriers’ motivation for opposing jamming in corrections facilities is that they make $2 billion annually in “prison minutes.”
Guttman-McCabe said Melamed’s claims about the carrier’s motivation are inaccurate.
“If we could wave a wand tomorrow and stop all use in jails, we’d do it in a nanosecond,” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous and an absurd notion that the carriers that have 270 million customers and 2.5 trillion minutes of use would in any way factor in prison usage.
“We want this issue to go away. We do not want prisoners to have access to cell phones or to be able to utilize them. There just have to be better ways that don’t impact citizens outside of the jail.”