|Allow cell phone jamming|
|By Jon Ozmint, Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections|
Technology advances at an amazing pace, and criminals figure out how to employ it for illegal purposes at an equally amazing pace. Within prisons across our nation criminals and their accomplices are using wireless technology to threaten public safety.
The Federal Communications Act of 1934 was created “for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communication.” By with-holding surgical jamming technology from state and local law enforcement, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) violates this purpose and fails to acknowledge advancing technology.
Cell phones are contraband in prison. However, contraband can get past even the best detection systems. X-ray scanners, metal detectors, drug and bomb dogs, and the best of search techniques are all creations of human ingenuity and they can all be defeated by human ingenuity.
In South Carolina prisons, we have improved procedures to squeeze the traditional contraband pipelines. As a result, we are now experiencing an increase in what we call ‘throw-overs:’ efforts to introduce contraband directly over our fences by throwing, shooting or dropping packages containing contraband. This method requires coordination with the ‘throwers’ on the outside, via cell phones.
Today, cell phones and related technology are now the contraband of choice in America’s prisons. Here’s why.
Cell phones allow inmates to avoid using inmate phone systems, where calls can be monitored and recorded. Recently, witnesses and others have been murdered as a result of ‘hits’ issued by inmates using cell phones. From drug dealing to credit card fraud to escapes, cell phones in prisons threaten public safety.
There are two ways to deal with the issue of cell phones in prisons. One is detection and location technology. This technology is expensive and imprecise. Further, it is only partially effective since it only works while phones are operating and it requires continuous staffing to monitor and search for phones, SIMS cards, and parts.
The second method, blocking or jamming, is 80% cheaper and 100% more effective. It is continuous and it cannot be defeated by hiding and moving phones and their parts: it eliminates the threats created by cell phones.
Years ago, technology used to block and jam signals was imprecise: in order to block cell phones within a limited area, such as a prison or a single building, the technology would interfere with other calls outside of that radius. Thus, the FCC was justified in prohibiting such blocking.
Now, improved technology can block only certain signals and within a set radius only. ‘Surgical jamming’ can be aimed. In fact, we invited the FCC to attend our recent demonstration of this technology in one of our maximum security prisons. Disappointingly, they refused to even send a representative.
From the beginning, the wireless industry has voiced two objections to using this technology in prisons: (1) interference with calls outside of prison, such as E-911 calls; and, (2) interference with our own law enforcement radios. After our demonstration, the public and the media present know that these arguments are specious: surgical jamming does not interfere with law enforcement radios or block E-911 calls. In fact, it will not block any call or frequency outside of the prison perimeter.
Jamming cell phones can be an effective and necessary tool for law enforcement. Federal agencies are already allowed to purchase and use this jamming technology. So, if a cell-phone detonated bomb threatens the U.S. Capital or the FCC building, federal law enforcement can jam the signal. After all, they are very important people!
But, out here in the hinterlands, if a cell phone-detonated bomb threatens a local courthouse or school, Congress and the FCC have made it a crime for our state and local law enforcement to use the same technology that they afford to federal authorities. Apparently, our safety is not quite as important.
This double-standard is the pinnacle of arrogance, even by Washington standards.
Congress and the FCC should be ashamed. And, they should act.
Jon Ozmint is the Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections and is asking the FCC to allow state and local law enforcement authorities to use jamming technology and to allow South Carolina to pilot surgical jamming technology in prisons, immediately.
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