Cell phone jamming

Saw this interesting article on cellphone jamming last week and have been pondering the implications of it.

Purchased for about $2,000 each, they can be turned on by remote control and emit low-level radio frequencies that thwart cell phone signals within a 100-foot radius.

Users get a “no service” or “signal not available” message on their cell phones.

Although Mexico has no law against the devices, the private use of cell phone blockers is illegal in the United States and most Western countries.

But the tide is turning.

Japan allows public places such as theaters and concert halls to install jammers, provided they obtain a government-issued license. And last week, France’s industry minister approved a decision to let cinemas, concert halls and theaters install them — as long as provisions are in place so emergency calls can still be made.

Canada had considered allowing blocking in similar situations. But Industry Canada, which regulates the country’s telecommunications, decided against it, saying the devices could infringe on personal freedom and affect public safety by crippling communication with law enforcement and security agencies.

Officials at Netline, which sold its first jammer in 1998, say they are selling thousands of jammers a year and have expanded their business throughout the world.

They’re far from the only manufacturers. The devices are sold the world over, with dozens of suppliers selling them on the Internet.

It’s certainly satisfying to contemplate the prospect of going to church or a movie and not have to worry about an obnoxious ringtone suddenly emanating from the person sitting next to you. I think, though, there’s a good reason for the general ban in the US. The nuisance potential of a cellphone jammer is pretty high. Imagine a candidate’s campaign headquarters, set up in a little strip center somewhere, and the business next door decides to install a jammer for himself. These things have a range of 100 feet, so now none of Candidate Smith’s campaign workers can get a signal. Do they have any recourse? What if they suspect it’s a dirty trick? I’d hate to be the judge for that lawsuit. You could build in exceptions for churches or theaters or whatnot, but then what happens when someone releases a jammer with a range of 500 feet? The law always lags behind new technologies.

Anyway. I’m actually a bit surprised that there hasn’t been some kind of clamor to allow jammers in the US. It’ll be spirited when it happens, that’s for sure.

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8 Responses to Cell phone jamming

  1. Patrick says:

    Typically speaking folks who work for Democratic campaigns are better at employing technology to their advantage than Republicans. No doubt part of this is due to the Republican social conservative base’s Luddite-like disdain for science and apprehension over the details of technology.

    It is the broader liberal notion of fairness and winning on the merit of your ideas as opposed to the conservative notion of winning at any cost through any means necessary that causes problems. Witness the recent attention to the Republican phone-jamming of Senate candidate Jean Shaheen’s GOTV effort in 2002. Phone jamming is technologically trivial and it’s a tribute to the ignorance and arrogance of the company that did the jamming that they got caught.

    It would be interesting to see what might happen with this if it becomes allowed, but I think beyond some initial nuisance, it would not be a significant factor. Of course if you waited until the right time to make that initial deployment…say, November of 2008…well then the damage is done and all we will have to show for it is another crocodile tear-stained Roger Ailes-like apology.

  2. Buhallin says:

    Cell phone jammers won’t stop rude people.

    We were in a movie last night, and a couple of older teens in the row in front of us were talking through the whole thing. When one of them got a call and actually sat there talking on the phone, my girlfriend snapped and told the girl to leave the theater. She got this “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?” look back. If it hadn’t been the big climax of the movie, she would have gone after the manager to get them kicked out.

    Point is, people were rude in movies before cell phones, and it’s only gotten worse. It has a lot less to do with phones than with a general deterioration of common courtesy. I don’t notice phones so much, but it seems I can’t go to a movie at all any more without a couple of people talking through the whole thing.

    Can I get a jammer for that?

  3. Tim says:

    I might sometimes fantasize about something like this in public places. That said, unless there was some way to get 911 calls through, I’d be a bit worried about implementing it.

  4. Mathwiz says:

    Theater owners, etc., might be able to “legally” block cellphones, etc. by lining their entire building with wire mesh, turning it into a giant Faraday cage. It’d be expensive, though.

  5. Mathwiz says:

    That said, unless there was some way to get 911 calls through, I’d be a bit worried about implementing it.

    I remember a time, in the distant, distant past, when cell phones simply didn’t exist! How did we manage to handle emergencies way back then?

    Let me strain my memory….oh yes, I remember now! We told somebody there was an emergency, and (s)he used something called a “land-line” telephone to call 911!

    Amazing we ever survived….

  6. Scott says:

    What is with the talk about 911 calls? If you are in a theater you would see that there was an emergency situation requiring a call to 911. The jammer DOES have an off switch after all.

  7. Scott says:

    The problem is not with emergency calls. These are illegal in the U.S. because they violate the cell pnone users right to free speech.

    That said though, I am actively looking. I am sick and tired of drivers (sorry women but it’s mostly females) who seem to be unable to go anywhere without a cell phone in their ear. These people seem to not be able to drive without visualizing the person with whom they are talking – you can see it in thier eyes, they are kinda looking to the side as they are going 10 MPH below the speed limit or just missing red lights, etc…

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