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South Carolina Wants To Jam Cell Phone Signals 601

Corey Brook writes "The South Carolina state prison system wants the FCC to grant them and local officers permission to block cell phone signals. News has been out about the growing problem of them perps smuggling cell phones into prisons for a while now. Inmates use cell phones as commerce, to implement fraud, smuggle drugs and weapons, and to order hits. Of course, some may use it to just talk to a loved one any time they can." Hopefully movie theaters and restaurants do it next.
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South Carolina Wants To Jam Cell Phone Signals

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  • by kabloom ( 755503 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:27AM (#25872289) Homepage

    I seem to recall reading about cell phone blocking paint [] and wall paper []. I doubt these require FCC approval. On the other hand, they're harder to get rid of when you use the building for a new purpose, and no longer care about cell blocking. The illegal electronic jammers that they probably want to get FCC approval for could be turned off as soon as they were no longer necessary.

  • by chiangovitch ( 1371251 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:29AM (#25872309)
    you do NOT get to do whatever you want whenever you want. Those rights were temporarily forfeited upon conviction. Sounds like a good idea to me.
  • Prison (Score:1, Interesting)

    by mfh ( 56 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:31AM (#25872343) Homepage Journal

    I just realized what they mean by smuggling them in. I'm guessing I wouldn't want one of those phones close to my mouth/nose.

    That's not all. In prison, other things can get close to your mouth and nose you wouldn't want. That's why it's prison. Be smarter than everyone you know and you might stay out of jail. Besides, most white collar crimes require too much effort to be even worth your time. (although bailouts seem to be the new bank-heist, and you get away with it!)

  • by Controlio ( 78666 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:54AM (#25872581)

    "Jamming" is not necessary. Everyone seems to think that blowing out a signal is the only way to get things done. That is way too short-sighted.

    It's easy to install a cell network of your own. Hell, Sprint sells 4-person personal cell towers in their stores in the US. So instead of "jamming" the frequencies, make a localized cell network that simply black-holes the unauthorized calls. This could even be adapted so the ESNs of legitimate users (guards, warden, etc) could be passed through, so everyone is happy.

    Or if you want to go the "Big Brother" route, make a localized network that snoops on all the unauthorized voice and data traffic. Seems like a great way to prove that criminals inside jails with cell phones are actually orchestrating crimes instead of just guessing about it.

  • Re:Mobile phones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:57AM (#25872627) Homepage

    Our local cinema already blocks cell-phone signals. Active blocking violates FCC regs. Passive blocking is just fine per my understanding. Phones work in the lobby but drop to 0 bars as soon as you get to the hallway leading to the screens.

    The logistics of retro-fitting an entire prison complex with a passive blocking cage may be prohibitively difficult, though. In the theater, it was a design feature when it was built a couple of years ago.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:17AM (#25872885) Homepage Journal

    It's illegal to jam signals electronically, but so far Faraday cages are legal. My friend Mike has a corrogated steel barn, wne when you're in the barn your phone will NOT work, perod.

    Theaters could coat the theater walls with aluminum to lagally block signals. I wish they would.

    Prisons could do the same thing. But actually, I think letting prisoners have cell phones is a GOOD thing; that is, if we want to rehabilitate these people. Sadly, I fewr we don't, as a place like Joliet is Crime University.

  • by flajann ( 658201 ) <[ed.xmg] [ta] [llehctim.derf]> on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:33AM (#25873089) Homepage Journal
    On the cell phone issue I have first hand experience at this. A few years back, sometime after I has pissed off the local police by calling them liars on the front page of the local newspaper (and I had good reason to do this, but that's a story for another time!), they sought every reason to give me hell for years, including anything they could find to arrest me on.

    So they found a nit to arrest me on -- some unpaid fine or some such -- and they were holding me pending release as soon as some friends could bring in the money I owned.

    Alas, Bush was visiting that day and they needed the local police station for security operations. And so everyone they were holding had to be carted off to the state correctional facility. Fun stuff.

    I has asked to use my cell phone so that I could make some calls to those trying to get me out, so that they would know where to go to get me out. It was a mad rush at that police station and many of the cops there looked very distracted and confused. Since I was polite to those who held me behind bars, they granted me this request.

    They were so distracted they forgot they actually gave me my cell phone! Well, I decided to just slip it in my pocket and hang on to it.

    When I arrived at the correctional facility, they knew that myself and the other guys were coming from the local police station, so they did not bother to "pat us down". It was simply a prisoner transfer. We were wearing our civilian clothes when we arrived, and they have this elaborate process of "processing" everyone. So into the waiting room we went. Before they put us in, they made us take off our coats and dump them in piles along a wall on the floor. Fortunately, I had thought to move my cell phone from my pants to my coat pocket en route to the facility, so I dropped my coat with cell phone nicely packed inside.

    The other immates were, for the most part, behaving like civilized people. It was the prison facility that had a lot of bad attitude towards us. Hell, you'd think they were the criminals! There were cameras everywhere, and I noted the position of each and every one of them.

    So, during the process, they put us into those horrid bright-orange jumpsuits, and back into the holding area. They would occasionally allow one or two of us out to make phone calls from the payphone on the wall. Though, you needed a special number to make any calls at all, and they would limit you to a minute or so. And they were very slective about whom they allowed to make phone calls, and not everyone got a chance.

    So, I was allowed out to make a phone call and ask a question or two. After I was done, I watched all the personell and they all looked busy doing things and weren't watching me. I decided, what the hell -- I boldly strode over to where my coat was dumped on the floor, and in one swift move that would make any slight-of-hand magician proud, I swooped down and snatched the cell phone from my coat pocket without anyone noticing! 3 seconds afterwards, I was told to go back to the holding area, and I did.

    I carefully noted the layout of the holding area, which had a very big window so the personell could see us, and there was also a camera. There were about 30 or so of us in that holding area. Ah, but there was a small area near the open toilet that the camera could not see and was not in the view of the guards. Perfect! I went to that area and made a couple of phone calls to those outside to tell them how to access my bank accounts to get the money to get me out of jail! Perfect!

    Of course, other innmates noticed I had a cell phone, and immediatly I was "everyone's friend". They all began asking me if they could borrow my cell to call a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. I was so moved by this I lent them this. I had them all stand, one at a time, in that same "sweet spot" whilst others stood watch.

    Not one single person called to make a drug deal. Not one single person called to make a hit order. ALL called family, friends, loved ones, and the like. T

  • Re:Disturbing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:40AM (#25873165) Homepage Journal

    You ARE new here, officer. Tags aren't put there by the submitter. AND a lot of people have never EVER had a good experience with cops. Someone breaks into your house, your stuff's gone but the cops aren't getting it back. Then they pull you over for DWB or DWY (driving while black or driving while young) the next day.

    After my home was burglarized in 1978 and I later found that the theif was a police informant, and the cops let him keep MY property, I cultivated a "fuck the police" attitude myself. If law enforcement personnel had better ethics, people wouldn't have a "fuck the police" attitude.

    You reap what you sow.

  • by flajann ( 658201 ) <[ed.xmg] [ta] [llehctim.derf]> on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:00PM (#25873379) Homepage Journal

    Regarding your second point, I suspect that part of the problem is that, while guards are supposed to be the ones enforcing the rules, the sad reality is that guards are often part of the problem. It's well known that much of the prison drug supply comes from guards selling to prisoners, so it's not much of a stretch to think that guards might be supplying cell phones to prisoners as well.

    Whenever there's a market, a way will be found.

    Actually, if they stopped locking people up for victimless crimes, this would be less of a problem! You thow someone in for a victimless "crime", and he gets educated to do real crime when he's released.

  • Re:Mobile phones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jfeldredge ( 1008563 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:01PM (#25873405)
    Another possible solution is to have a dummy base station that the cell phones will connect to, since it will have a stronger signal than the towers farther from the prison. If the base station is set up so as not to pass any calls on, it effectively blocks the calls. However, such a solution is currently not allowed as it would also interfere with calls for some distance around the prison, as well as the intended calls originating inside the prison.
  • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:28PM (#25873777) Homepage
    You hit the nail on the head regarding much of the real issue. In jail/prison you have to use the very expensive phone service that the crooks^H^H^H^H^H^H warden and other powers that be have set up. They make a HUGE amount of money price gouging. If you ignored the profit aspect the other reason is that crimes get committed - such as no contact order violations, etc. - and the prison officials want to record every call made by a prisoner for this reason. Still, the reason they are trying to Jam it is much more about profit motive than public safety. I cannot prove it, I admit, but I guarantee it is true.
  • Re:fp (Score:3, Interesting)

    by C_L_Lk ( 1049846 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @12:45PM (#25873983) Homepage

    Even easier - don't give them easy access to power outlets. Seriously.. they are in prison - do they really need a 120v outlet in their prison cell so they can charge their mobile phone?

  • Re:Mobile phones (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ubercam ( 1025540 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:02PM (#25874237)

    There is another (easier?) way to test this. Go somewhere with not too much light pollution and look up at the stars on a clear night. Stare into an area with lots of stars to get a good idea of how many there are. Then look at the same area using your peripheral vision and you will notice that you can see more stars than you could before, which seem to disappear when you look right at them. Try it out with an area that doesn't seem to have any stars at all and you will probably see a few with your peripheral vision.

  • by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:17PM (#25874429)

    "I don't get why are cellphones themselves a problem, and why the solution is jamming them." []

    The state makes a fortune off prison telephones. All of the talk about "planning crimes" or "drug deals" is total BS.

    You got that right. I worked in the inmate phone racket (as a peon engineer) many years ago, when the market first opened up. In the beginning, county jails and smaller prisons were served by independent phone companies. These companies were mostly local pay-telephone operators -- a market created with the AT&T breakup -- who discovered that it was far more profitable to operate jail-phones than coin operated pay phones. For one thing, you didn't need to go around collecting the coin: inmate phones were collect call only. Secondly, they charged the highest tariffed rate: person-to-person, operator-assisted, collect with sugar on top rates.

    There was no actual operator to pay, the inmate just dialed and said his name at the voice prompt and the phone called up his mom/wife/girlfriend with the recorded message: "Will you accept a collect call from inmate x in the county jail? Dial 'one' to accept, 'two' to refuse." Even a local call would cost at least 25 cents plus $1.50 to $3.00 in fees. If the applicable tariff allowed, even these local calls were charged by the minute. An inmate's loved ones could easily get charged hundreds of dollars a month just to keep in touch. There was no warning that these calls would be that expensive.

    The jails were happy to provide this service, since the commissions they would receive really helped the jail budget. The jail operators weren't too concerned with the ethics of taking kickbacks, since it was common practice for pay telephone operators to pay a site commission to the property manager in exchange for allowing the placement of the pay phone in the store/bar/restaurant/office building/etc. Of course, the inmates were literally captive consumers. There was no other legal method of real-time communication with the outside world.

    Some places had laws that required that the commissions be used for inmate welfare and education only. And there were some particularly ethical jail administrators that also used site commissions only for benefit of the prisoners even without a law requiring it. But usually the commissions went right back into the general fund operating the facility, with the benefit that the administrator or his/her boss could spend it as they pleased, whereas government provided (tax) funding had to be spent where the governing authority specified.

    There were also "gifts" provided to sheriffs and jail administrators. These were usually "in-kind", to provide some cover from bribery laws. An in-kind gift could be an artist-signed wildlife lithograph by a well-known, first-class illustrator.

    I've long since been out of that field, and the small operators have consolidated and many have sold out to big communications firms, but the business model remains the same.

  • Re:Mobile phones (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:32PM (#25874685)

    The Roman prisons were holes carved into caves & the prisoners were thrown inside. They had access to nothing.

    The more I study history, the more I think the Romans displayed a heck of a lot more intelligence than modern politicians (in some respects, not all). If the prisoners have access to nothing, how are they going to charge their cellphone batteries? Eventually the problem solves itself (dead phones).

  • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:40PM (#25874783) Homepage

    obviously there are some really determined inmates in the prison system. perhaps we just need to redirect or refocus their drive towards productive tasks. for instance:

    1. if they want unfettered access to communication with the outside world, give them a computer with just a basic OS installed and an internet connection. no browser, no e-mail client, no instant messenger. just offer voluntary classes on Java, C++, Perl, or whatever, and give them books on TCP/IP and socket programming.
    2. erect a firewall to block access to all websites except a whitelist of online resources on network security, firewalls, the OSI model, NAT traversal, etc. so if they want access to porn, e-mail, Myspace, whatever, they'll need to learn how to bypass the firewall.
    3. once they've mastered the above topics and overcome the obstacles put in place, take away their computer and reformat it. this time install the OS without any networking drivers. do this only after they've gotten used to having free internet access, being able to chat or webcam with their friends/relatives, surfing the web 12 hours a day, etc.--basically, wait until they've developed an internet/information addiction.
    4. repeat step 3 using new obstacles until inmates are able to build a computer from scratch out of a blank PCB, a paper clip, a chunk of quartz, some toilet paper, and a few strands of dental floss.

    in addition to keeping inmates occupied (rather than just having them shank one another all day) and mentally stimulated through environmental enrichment, they'll also develop useful skills helping to rehabilitate them for reintegration with society. a convict who knows how to reverse engineer hardware, write their own device drivers, understands tunneling protocols, and has other advanced technical skills/knowledge is not likely to go back to petty crimes or even associate with petty criminals who don't know a compiler from a screen saver.

    and there are probably other ways to motivate different types of inmates. for instance, rather than trying to stop inmates from smuggling drugs into the prison, just give them some raw opium and a chemistry set, and have them learn how to extract/purify the morphine themselves. once they've mastered basic alkaloid extraction from plant matter, stop giving them raw opium and just have them synthesize synthetic opioids from scratch, etc. by the time an inmate finishes a 15 year sentence they should have a PhD in organic/biochemistry.

  • Re:Prison (Score:1, Interesting)

    by msromike ( 926441 ) * < minus author> on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:40PM (#25874793)

    A 4+ insightful troll making the fallacious argument that since there is sexual predation in some American prisons that the American people naturally would like to see wild animals mauling inmates as well.

  • Re:fp (Score:5, Interesting)

    by C_L_Lk ( 1049846 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @01:57PM (#25874979) Homepage

    And why not intercept all calls by setting up a prison-wide base-station? Use the ECHELON system or something to take care of the intercepted calls.

    You know this is an idea I could really get behind - microcell equipment for office buildings, etc. has reached quite an affordable level and wouldn't really be more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to a prison budget. This way guards, staff, and visitors could still use their cell phones -- perhaps when you arrive at the prison check-in desk you give them your cell's ESN - they enable it for 8 or 12 hours through their microcell - you can make all the calls you want, etc. If you slip the phone to a prisoner or whatever, they are cutoff within the day and the phone is useless. Obviously all phone numbers "from and to" will be recorded - and you can be informed as such when you give them your ESN to get service within the prison.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:37PM (#25875489)
    No young person wears watches anymore. Some of the newer cell phones now have secondary clock LEDs, mainly to save screen-lighting power beacuse this is the most popular cell-phone use.

    In a very engrossing movie, I rarely see cell phones opened. For example last week at the new James Bond move which mostly action.
  • Re:Prison (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @04:11PM (#25876685)

    In Colonial American times, prison didn't exist, because it was considered cruel and unusual punishment. Jails (gaols) existed, but only to hold accused people for a short time (not years) until their trial. After they were found guilty, their punishments were quick: hanging, branding, having fruit thrown at them, etc. Generally a lot better IMO than sitting in prison, rotting, for years or decades.

    The big problem with American prisons is that they put non-violent and violent inmates in the same prisons. Rapists and murderers should be executed, and until their appeals are exhausted, they should be kept separate from others, not allowed to create their own lawless society where they rape other inmates. Drug offenders should be released and have their records expunged.

  • by WittyName ( 615844 ) on Monday November 24, 2008 @09:24PM (#25880135)

    If prisoners are doing UNSAFE things with the phone (calling in hits)
    then shouldn't the location of the phone be obvious. Prisons are fairly stationary.

    So, call your nearby phone providers, tell them your coords, and block
    the region.

    No need for expensive new machines to do this.

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn