Legalise mobile phone jammers?

Should prisons and police be allowed to jam mobile phones? Should movie theatres? Should you?

Jamming a mobile phone is illegal in the US. Very illegal. And not just by ordinary citizens. It's illegal for theatre and restaurant owners to jam calls, and even state and local police or prison officials. The US, in fact, has the strictest laws in the world against jamming mobile calls.

US law prohibits not only buying, selling, carrying or owning a mobile phone jammer, but also posting a Craigslist ad that claims you're selling one. If you're caught with a jammer, you could face up to US$11,000 in fines and up to one year in prison.

The ban against mobile phone jammers isn't new. In fact, it's the musty old 1934 Communications Act that bans the jamming of any commercial radio communication, a law that predates not only jammers but mobile phones themselves.

Mobile phone jammer laws vary throughout the world. In the UK and Japan, for example, anyone can own a jammer -- as long as they don't use it.

Dozens of countries, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Turkey and others, allow the police or prison officials to use jammers.

Chinese and Indian schools use jammers to stop cheaters. Mexico allows jammers in churches and hospitals. And Pakistan allows jamming in banks and libraries.

Most countries, including the US, use jammers to thwart mobile phone-triggered bomb attacks against government leaders. When US President Obama walked down Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration, all mobile phones were jammed in the area. The US military uses jammers to stop roadside bomb attacks in Iraq.

In fact, the harsh laws against jammers in the US apply to everyone except federal government officials. Which raises the question: Is that right?

US prisons want to use jammers. So do police. And while we're at it, so do many movie theatres, restaurants and other businesses. Some individuals want to use jammers as well.

Who decided that only federal officials can be trusted with mobile phone jammers?

Jailhouse block

A bill now in US Congress called the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 would enable governors or the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to petition the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use jammers in jails.

Tags mobile phones

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld

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