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Local Police Want To Jam Wireless Signals 317

The Washington Post is reporting on the growing pressure from state and local law enforcement agencies for permission to jam wireless signals the way the Secret Service and the FBI can. Officials especially want to be able to drop a no-call blanket over local prisons around the country from time to time. "...jamming remains strictly illegal for state and local agencies. Federal officials barely acknowledge that they use it inside the United States, and the few federal agencies that can jam signals usually must seek a legal waiver first. The quest to expand the technology has invigorated a debate about how widely jamming should be allowed and whether its value as a common crime-fighting strategy outweighs its downsides, including restricting the constant access to the airwaves that Americans have come to expect. ... Critics warn of another potential problem, 'friendly fire,' when one agency inadvertently jams another's access to the airwaves, posing a safety hazard in an emergency. [CTIA spokesman Joe] Farren said there are 'smarter, better and safer alternatives,' such as stopping inmates from getting smuggled cellphones in the first place or pinpointing signals from unauthorized callers."
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Local Police Want To Jam Wireless Signals

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  • This will come up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SolidAltar ( 1268608 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:38PM (#26688047)

    Question: How the hell do you smuggle a cell phone into prison?
    Answer: You don't. You bribe/threaten a guard.

  • Re:dumb. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SolidAltar ( 1268608 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:45PM (#26688119)

    Distilling your idea: Setup cell phone towers in prisons. The phones will connect to these towers since they are the strongest. Make these towers "dead" cells".

    I guess as long as you set them up inside the prison blocks of solid concrete walls and steel it could work. *shrug*

  • Re:easy solution.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SolidAltar ( 1268608 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:58PM (#26688223)

    About a dozen states â" Oregon, Arizona, California and Iowa, among others â" have call centers in state and federal prisons, underscoring a push to employ inmates in telemarketing jobs that might otherwise go to low-wage countries such as India and the Philippines. Arizona prisoners make business calls, as do inmates in Oklahoma. A call center for the DMV is run out of an all-female prison in Oregon. Other companies are keeping manufacturing jobs in the USA. More than 150 inmates in a Virginia federal prison build car parts for Delco Remy International. Previously, some of those jobs were overseas. At least 2,000 inmates nationwide work in call centers, and that number is rising as companies seek cheap labor without incurring the wrath of politicians and unions. At the same time, prison populations are ballooning, offering U.S. companies another way to slash costs.

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/employment/2004-07-06-call-center_x.htm [usatoday.com]
    And they work for $200 dollars. A month. I'm glad that the prisoners get to do something productive...but it feels kind of weird/prison-industrial complexish. =0

  • by Gyga ( 873992 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:01PM (#26688235)
    I was under the impression that prisons currently have the right to listen to phone calls/visits that don't involve lawyers, most courts would extend it to illegal phone calls.
  • Re:Suure... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sgt_doom ( 655561 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:10PM (#26688301)

    Outstanding point, Good Citizen darkitecture.

    It reminds me of those white-collar workers within the Twin Towers on 9/11/01, who dailed 911, only to be told by some witless 911 operator or other to remain in their building which had just been struck by an airliner.

    Reminded me of that airhead I once knew who had been hired to be a 911 in NYC, even though her husband was a fugitive from the law and had an outstanding warrent on him.

    Unbeleivable, but to be believed during these present times of ultimate lawlessness and corruption...I speak of those banksters, Jamie Dimon, Hank "the Skank" Paulson, Cayne, Phil and Wendy Gramm, etc., etc., etc.

  • Re:This will come up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:21PM (#26688343)

    While there is more corruption in prison than anyone would like to admit, all the compact technology in a cell phone is tremendous, and it keeps getting smaller and easier to smuggle.

    Also, most prisons are criminally understaffed. It is far easier to bribe a guard when there are less eyes on the prisoners and less colleagues who are keeping an eye on other staff as well (although I note the administrative ranks seem to be swelling).

    Jammers make the most amount of sense on a per cost basis, but the underlying problems in prisons remains.*

    *Works in a prison.

  • Re:and dumber (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:24PM (#26688357) Homepage Journal

    And block all phone use by guards, prison management, and visitors?

    All CELLphone use. The guards, management and visitors would still have access to the land lines.

  • Re:I want one too! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zackbass ( 457384 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:30PM (#26688413)

    The funny thing about this is that however many geeks there are that think it'd be fun to set up a jammer there's as many geeks out there who'd like nothing more than to track them down. I can see amateur radio operators having a field day (pun intended) hunting them down and helping the FCC hand out fines. No doubt crushing fines both because of the implications for emergency handling and because it's a strike against the telecoms. Tracking down cell phone jammers could become a major sport for radio operators if they become more common.

  • Prisons (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:39PM (#26688445)

    They don't need the ability to jam cell phone signals to stop them from being used in prisons.

    Prisons are controlled facilities that can be designed from the ground up to provide ways of stopping unauthorized signals.

    For example, by lining cells with tin, special paint, and other materials that block certain radio frequencies.

    This could be done to the entire building, and would be much more effective and safer than periodic localized jamming during an emergency.

    They could even be designed so that the measures are just strong enough to prevent cell phones from working, but still allow personnel to carry radios and other equipment with higher power transmitters, that would not be significantly impacted.

    Another possibility is to place monitoring apparatus in each cell, and if a prisoner uses a cell phone or other radiocommunication device, a detector will trigger an alarm identifying the specific area from which a cell phone has been used.

    The method of detection still allows any cell phone that happens to be in a prison facility in event of a life-threatening emergency, as a means to summon aid.

  • Micro Cells (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:54PM (#26688537)

    Have prisons work a deal with the cellular network folks to set up some low power micro cells covering the prison facilities. All calls will be routed through the prison cell site. Legitimate users (staff) can have their phones 'whitelisted' to bypass the filtering and surveillance applications running on the base station.

    Think of the intelligence the anti-gang units can accumulate by listening in on calls. Or even checking to see who is calling whom. Legitimate prisoner calls (from prison phones) are subject to monitoring, so this wouldn't be a big legal hurdle.

  • Re:This will come up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RabidMoose ( 746680 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:58PM (#26688559) Homepage
    Unfortunately, you're right. There's likely no 100% effective way to prevent the smuggling of items into prisons.
    Say you invent a magical contriband detector that always sees any item you want on a person. All it takes is to bribe the person operating the machine, and it becomes useless. Make a machine that's totally automated and decides for itself, and you're getting dangerously close to Skynet.
  • Re:Faraday cage? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @09:41PM (#26688819)
    That would work great until some prisoner got a guard in his cell and beat him up and the guard couldn't call for backup.
  • Re:This will come up (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @09:51PM (#26688875) Homepage
    What is the more correct conclusion, is when the system is failing but has potential, you review and alter the system so as to reduce the failure potential. Privatised for profit prisons will always be a failure at rehabilitation, as rehabilitation costs money and in reality eliminates the future profit potential of current inmates (no repeat offenders).

    Corporations are simple amoral engines of greed, their priority is to charge as much as possible while spending the least amount possible, hence locking up convicted inmates in the cheapest way possible that they are legally able to get away with. So low cost guards basically low IQ thugs in uniform who often derive perverted sexual fulfilment from abusing people, rather then properly trained correctional (note the term) services officers, which of course would 'cost' a corporation two to three times as much, where as of course repeat offenders only cost the public ten to one hundred times that in damages, pain and suffering, so corporate profits first the publics interest last and keep those returning profits from repeat offenders coming in.

    The reality is that a prison should in fact be the most law abiding place in society, otherwise the supervision and rehabilitation is demonstrated to be a total failure. Rather than blocking transmissions that should be tracking them to find the contraband then pursuing the trail of evidence to apprehend all those involved and of course turn the smuggling prison guard into an inmate and demonstrate the effectiveness of law enforcing institution and it's staff. Jamming the signals, the cheap solution which is basically giving up on enforcing law within in prison.

  • by atmurray ( 983797 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @10:11PM (#26689033)
    Cheaper than jamming, why not set up wireless signal detectors (like those used to detect the presence of WiFi networks) to allow the pin-pointing of illegally smuggled in devices. These would cost a fraction of cost of jamming devices, not have questionable legalities and would allow prosecution of those caught illegally using devices inside goal.
  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @10:29PM (#26689203)

    While I happen to agree. That same kid is more likely testing and talking to their friends instead of their parents. They are the ones who talk in theaters.

    However neither should be in theaters. As it would be a good place to take hostages or trap people.

  • Re:Same point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Sunday February 01, 2009 @10:37PM (#26689283) Homepage Journal

    First, cell phone tower antennas can be made highly directional, providing coverage over a small arc. It would be a Small Matter Of Engineering to design a series of antennas that would effectively cover a prison and not the surrounding area or even the parking lot.

    Extending the idea of directionality further, cell towers today can already provide the location of the phones being used to within a few hundred yards. It should technically be possible to obtain the cooperation of the local cell providers to identify calls emanating from within a certain area, with NO additional investment of hardware. CALEA might even give them the authority to do so with no new statutes.

    Next, this could be done selectively. Start with the Federal Supermax prisons. Then extend it to maximum security facilities, then to medium security if required.

    Also note, the cell towers could be functional, yet still record conversations and ESNs and IMEI numbers. That would permit their use in emergencies or by visitors, all of whom could be notified of the monitoring by signs as they enter the prison. It would be important for lawyers to understand that client-attorney privilege would not exist over their cell phones within the vicinity of such a prison. Or perhaps they could go so far as to require registration of IMEI numbers by all visitors/employees and block calls from unidentified phones, or from phones where the visitor has left. Tracing the phones back to the guards or visitors who provide them would provide incentive to block their entry in the first place.

    Yes, jamming would be cheaper, but could really cause problems in a true emergency.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 01, 2009 @11:39PM (#26689649)

    "As President Obama's motorcade rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, federal authorities deployed a closely held law enforcement tool: equipment that can jam cellphones and other wireless devices to foil remote-controlled bombs, sources said."

    Ok, so I'm a bad guy and suspect my cell phone IED detonator will be jammed. Probably sometime around when the target will be around. So I plant a few of them, set a delay of X +- random based on IED locations, and when the signal gets jammed start the timer....

    If that can be thought of in a few seconds, there must be even better ways to use the jamming information as well.

    Not to mention, all you need to do is create a timer that waits for cell jamming, then listens for an RF signal of a specific amplitude (or sequence thereof) and goes off then. It's nearly impossible to block a 50K watt RF blast that could be used as a signal.

  • by coyote4til7 ( 189857 ) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @11:57PM (#26689851) Homepage

    Whether things are handled by jamming or by a micro-cell solution or some other way, there's one big problem. A lot of prisons are very close to major interstates or population centers. The main max in Texas is right next to I-35 a few hours south of Dallas, a road that carries so much traffic, you will rarely get up to the speedlimit. Colorado has a facility that, if memory serves is right off I-70.

    Any solution that is sufficient to cut off all the prisoner cell phones is going to interfere with the use of cellphones nearby... like those people on that freeway next door.

    The freeway next to I-35 in Texas has posted signs (no joke) warning people to not pick up hitch hikers. They existed long before four prisoners escaped a few years back. Two or three of those prisoners made it out of state. One made it about a thousand miles.

    If they put in jammers, my suspicion is that the next prison break is going to involve prisoners walking up on to the freeway and using a rock to take out a windshield and a driver. I'm sure they'll say a few thanks for the cellphone jammers as they drive away and the other drivers realize they can't call 911...

    FWIW, if you want to get between DFW and the other major metros in Texas, like Austin, you've got roughly two choices: I-35 and a 350-400 plod along two lane Farm to Market roads frequented by farm tractors. Talk about a looong day.

  • Re:Micro Cells (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:59AM (#26690401) Journal

    All calls will be routed through the prison cell site.

    Prisoners have NOTHING BUT TIME. Through the slightest bit of intelligence, and sheer force of trial and error, SOMEBODY will figure out that holding a piece of aluminum foil over half the phone, while facing just the right distance, will work. And once one person figures it out, the rest will, quickly.

    How often are you going to make changes, and how quickly will the prisoners adapt to them?

  • Re:This will come up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Monday February 02, 2009 @02:41AM (#26691099)

    How could a Faraday cage be easier?

    Cell sites as they are right now can triangulate a cell signal. That's required by federal law for 911 calls made on a cell phone. It's the enhanced E911 calling rules enforced by the FCC. I think right now in their current phase location information has to be accurate to 50-300 meters. Of course that is not precise enough to locate it within a prison system, but the technology to do this already exists. By 2012, the location information has to be *more* precise.

    Creating a couple of cell sites located at the four corners of a prison would intercept all cell phones and even more precise information is available for those calls.

    In any case, triangulation of any type of radio signals are easier than building a Faraday cage around a prison system.

  • Re:Suure... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @04:55AM (#26691805) Homepage

    What you'd do is set up a picocell network inside the prison. The actual cells are about the size of a large wireless AP with a range of a few tens of metres. These are wired up to a controller that handles all the phone switching, cell handoff and so on, which could be set up to only allow calls from a small number of locally-registered phones (registered with that BSC).

    "Ah but what about people outside? Good luck with that, you'll need it when I sue you because I couldn't phone an ambulance for my scraped knee!" I hear a certain subset of the /. readership say - well, that's *easy*. Set up picocells *outside* the prison too, sufficiently far away from the prison wall that reception is marginal. The phones will lock onto the strongest signal, which inside will be the "controlled" picocells, and outside will be "open" picocells.

    Incidentally, this has already been discussed in the UK. Over here, no-one is allowed to have a mobile phone inside a prison at all, for any reason, so whether it works or not is irrelevant.

  • Re:This will come up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @07:14AM (#26692431)

    "Give me six lines written by the most honest of men, and I will find something in them which will hang him."

    Cardinal Richelieu

  • Re:This will come up (Score:4, Interesting)

    by concord ( 198387 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @08:41AM (#26692865) Homepage

    I think it's kinda funny that we naively go about our business believing that the prison systems cannot afford to implement things like cell phone honeypots or jamming devices locally when they are obviously not as poor as we think. Let's take this recent example of a prison system that spent 77,000 dollars to update the prison with 117 brand new flat screen [bostonherald.com] high definition televisions for their inmates.

  • Common practice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by entt ( 1060982 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:23AM (#26693119) Journal
    This is common practice in Turkey. In Istanbul near the prisons, it is hard to speak via mobile phones. They can not stop mobiles, so they jam the signal.
  • Re:This will come up (Score:2, Interesting)

    by digitalsolo ( 1175321 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:11PM (#26695191) Homepage


    I think that's being just a little disingenuous. You could just as easily say "Crimes go unsolved and criminal unpunished. Why does so much taxpayer money go towards police departments which aren't doing their jobs?"

    Actually, depending on where you are in the country, that might be a valid question.

    A few years ago, one of my cars was broken into; I called the police (non emergency number, of course) and informed them. They didn't even care enough to take my name. They asked for the address for trending, and refused to so much as listen to any other information.

    8 months later, in the same district, I was pulled over for having a headlight out (loose wire actually). 3 cop cars came to the stop. They were quite intent on giving me a 200 dollar ticket until I jiggled the wire and fixed it.

    I could tolerate their behavior more in the first instance, if it were not for their behavior in the second. As it stands, it begs the question: "Why does so much taxpayer money go towards police departments which aren't doing their jobs?"

  • Re:This will come up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hordeking ( 1237940 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:19PM (#26695303)
    While you missed the sarcasm, I do agree with you. You could probably actually use the actual cell signal to get far more precise. I was recently working on GPS route-planning software that can get down to an error of +- 1" (one inch, no mistake). It used cell phone signals to eliminate the GPS error.
  • Re:This will come up (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2009 @01:13PM (#26696055)

    Re: #3.. if they haven't passed a law criminalizing something.. uhh.. doesn't that make it legal?

    Also, many laws are not enforced, and even if the spotlight of the law was shown on you they still wouldn't be enforced. (You need a prosecutor to prosecute, a judge to not throw out, and 12 out of 12 people to convict).

    Finally, not all laws that are broken make you a criminal. Driving 70 in a 65 is breaking a law, but does not make you a criminal*.

    Take off the tin-foil hat dude.

    *Don't you dare be pedantic enough to quote me the definition of criminal from Dictionary.com

  • Re:This will come up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Monday February 02, 2009 @05:46PM (#26700213)

    Why not make it the law that all non-registered cellphones using the prinsons cell site coverage are automatically logged (phone details AND voice recorded..) - surely that would make the value of the phones almost nothing.

    Wrong. Most prisoners couldn't care less if their calls are being monitored. The reason cell phones are valuable to prisoners and the reason the prison administration doesn't want them used is that use of the standard prison phone is a HUGE source of revenue for the prisons, as all calls are collect, calling card numbers (often all 800 numbers) are typically blocked, and the prison's carrier often charges more than 10 times standard rates. There are companies that cater especially to hospitals and prisons that charge exorbitant rates because they have a (literally) captive market. (Ever wonder why hospitals don't allow cell phones?) If you don't believe me, do a Google search for a company called Zero Point Dialing, and read some of the things that people have to say about them.

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