First responders in a jam?

Date: 12 June 2009
One vendor launches a challenge of FCC rules that keep cell-jamming equipment from state and local agencies A Florida company that sells cellular-jamming equipment is challenging Federal Communications Commission rules prohibiting state and local governments from using the devices. "We only market to the federal government, because that's what the law allows," said Howard Melamed, president of Cell- Antenna Corp. in Coral Springs. But state and local police departments are also interested in the technology as a way to block the remote detonation of bombs and to control communications in sensitive areas. Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Act of 1934 and FCC rules make such jamming devices illegal except for feds. So CellAntenna in April filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asking to have the law declared unconstitutional. Melamed said he is all in favor of FCC enforcement for keeping cellular jammers out of the hands of the general public. But, he said, they are a legitimate tool for fighting terrorism that should be entrusted to the state and local police.

"If we trust them with bullets, I think we can trust them with jamming equipment," he said. FCC would not comment on the suit or on the rules excluding state and local agencies from the technology. CellAntenna's primary business is antennas and repeaters for boosting and extending cellular signals. But it also sells three products intended to block cellular signals. The CJAM 100 is a low-power, portable personal jamming device that blocks signals within a 15-meter radius, but is particularly effective at distances up to 12 feet.

The CJAM 500 is an adjustable model with a range of up to 30 meters, intended to block signals in room-sized areas. The CJAM 1000 is a high-powered device that can block up to three microwave frequencies within a half-mile radius. The devices block only the downlink from the cell site to the phone and do not interfere with the phone's uplink. They are intended to prevent remote detonation of bombs, to block communications in hostage negotiations and raids, and to ensure against data leakage, the company says. According to an FCC public notice issued in June, however, homeland security isn't the only reason customers show interest in the technology. "Recently, the FCC has seen a growing interest in the devices," the notice said. "Inquiries about the use of cellular jammers are often accompanied by comments that the use of wireless phones in public places is disruptive and annoying."

The FCC's position: no dice. No matter how annoying, you cannot legally block cell phone use. But some vendors apparently are targeting that market. "Advertisements for cellular jammers suggest that the devices may be used on commuter trains, in theaters, hotels, restaurants and other locations the public frequents," FCC said. The 1934 law and later FCC rules prohibiting such use carry fines of up to $11,000 a day. Only the federal government is exempt from FCC rules on radio devices, and the commission actively enforces the ban. In October 2004 it issued a citation to a San Juan, Puerto Rico, company for selling 23 jammers to the island's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The department allegedly was using the Israeli-made devices to block cell phone use inside the Guayama Correctional Facility. The military uses such devices to neutralize the improvised explosive devices that have taken such a toll on convoys in Iraq. Lately though, Melamed said, his company has been flooded with inquiries from state and local police departments. "I believe the London subway bombings last July had something to do with it," as well as the 2004 bombings in Madrid, he said. Melamed acted after receiving a letter of inquiry last summer as part of an FCC investigation into the sale of jamming devices to state and local governments.

'Antiquated position' In October he sent a letter to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, complaining of what he called an "antiquated position" that "will result in the death of our citizens as well as law enforcement officers." He cited wording in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 that makes the Homeland Security Department the lead agency in identifying and providing local jurisdictions with the technology to fight terrorism. He said that "outfitting our local and state police with jamming devices is vital to the DHS goal in fighting terrorism." Assistant secretary for infrastructure protection Bob Stephan wrote back three months later, thanking Melamed for his concern and assuring him that the department was "diligently investigating" the issue. DHS spokespeople contacted by GCN would not comment on the issue. "My next step was to file a lawsuit," Melamed said. FCC advised him that he could file a petition challenging the rules, but it could take months before the commission would decide whether to even consider it. "I had originally written a petition, but I decided the time frame was wrong," he said. His lawyer told him the quickest path was a constitutional challenge in the courts. A request for a declaratory judgment forces the commission to defend its position.

The suit claims that, according to the Homeland Security Act, "Congress clearly intended for state and local law enforcement agencies and first responders to have ready access to advanced technical equipment to be used in the defense of the nation against terrorism." It claims that excluding state and local agencies violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment and that Congress, with the Homeland Security Act, implicitly repealed the restrictions in the Communications Act. State and local law enforcement agencies will be monitoring the suit's progress.

FCC letter regarding
'authorization for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections to host a demonstration of equipment designed to block wireless telephone calls by prisoners.'

Date: 02 January 2009
CellAntenna Prison Cell Phone Jamming Demonstration, Travis County State Jail (Austin, Texas), December 18th, 2008, CellAntenna CEO - Howard Melamed.

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Prisons seek to jam cell phone signals

Date: 20 December 2010
By TONY RIZZO The Kansas City Star - Dec. 20, 2008 The dog crate got all the publicity. But it was a cell phone smuggled by an accomplice that helped convicted killer John Manard plan his escape from a Kansas prison in 2006.

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Date: 17 December 2008
TR Daily By Paul Kirby - Dec. 17, 2008

An FCC spokesman has responded to criticism from a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott over the Commission's statement that it encourages the state to proceed with a demonstration of mobile phone signal jamming technology tomorrow.

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Date: 16 December 2008
TR Daily By Paul Kirby - Dec. 17, 2008 Texas state prison authorities have canceled a scheduled Thursday demonstration of mobile phone signal jamming equipment because they said they did not want to violate a federal prohibition on use of the technology by non-federal government entities

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Test to jam prison cell phones scuttled

Date: 16 December 2008
Austin American-Statesman - Austin, TX, USA By Mike Ward - Dec. 16, 2008 Officials say they fear demonstration would violate federal law. State prison officials on Monday abruptly canceled a much-ballyhooed test of electronic jamming technology designed to curb an epidemic of smuggled cell phones in prisons... CellAntenna SC Prison Cell Phone Jamming Demonstration, RIDGEVILLE, November 21, 2008. CellAntenna CEO - Howard Melamed.

Jamming on the inside

Date: 12 August 2008
By Lynne Murray, News Intern Published: 12/08/2008

Cell phones may be prohibited in corrections facilities, but that doesn't seem to be stopping inmates from using them. The use of cell phones among inmates has yielded some bizarre stories over the last few years. For example, one Maryland legislator was surprised to get a call from an inmate who used a cell phone to complain about the prison he was in. A Texas warden also received an unusual call from an inmate's mother who complained about her son's cell phone service.

Usually, the phones are smuggled in during visits. Recently Richard Lee Tabler, a death row convict in Texas, caused a major lockdown in the Texas prison system due to his exploits with an illegal cell phone. Tabler made more than 2,800 calls including several to a state senator. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice ended up doing a contraband search in its prisons, which led it to discover more inmates with illegal cell phones.

In an attempt to avoid these incidents, South Carolina is taking steps towards preventing inmates from even getting a call through the prison walls, by jamming cell phone signals. "Every day across our nation, inmates are coordinating and continuing their criminal enterprises from behind prison walls using wireless technology," South Carolina Corrections Director Jon Ozmint said in a recent statement. "They are running gangs, making threats, extorting money, engaging in credit card and tax fraud, and making drug deals."

According to SCDOC Public Information Officer Josh Gelinas, his department wanted to demonstrate a cell phone blocking technology that wiped out signals inside the facility.

The SCDOC chose Cell Antenna Corp., a Florida company that provides cell phone signal blocking devices to help it with the SCDOC's demonstration. The Federal Communications Commission, however, believed that Cell Antenna's technology would interfere with the cell phone service of the community surrounding the prison so initially it prohibited the demonstration. In response, Cell Antenna president and CEO, Howard Melamed, said "We only jam the amount of signals needed (within the prison) to jam the illegal cell phones."

According to Melamed his company's device is meant to jam cell phone signals in secure rooms, so the contained jamming system would have no effect on any surrounding community, and no service leakage outside of the prison area would occur. "This is state-of-the-art technology we are working with. The jamming will be fully controlled, and we told the FCC that," he added.

After discussions with Cell Antenna and the SCDOC, the FCC agreed to let the demonstration proceed. "We understand public safety's concerns and are willing to work with [the SCDOC] going forward." FCC spokesman Robert said.

According to Gelinas the demonstration was a success. "We allowed our guests to bring cell phones into a visitation room and turn them on to see that they worked," he said. "The jamming technology was turned on and signals immediately were lost. By simply walking outside the visitation room, however, signals were restored."

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