Officials: Test supports prison phone jamming
05/12/2010
Associated Press

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ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski cited test results released Wednesday on cell phone jamming equipment at a federal prison to support federal legislation allowing states to stop prisoners from using contraband cell phones.

The test was conducted in February at the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It was the first federally sanctioned test inside a prison.

“NTIA’s report is proof positive that we can jam criminals and protect communities,” Mikulski, D-Md., said in a statement that supported using the technology in prisons nationwide.

The NTIA report relates only to the test at the facility, and does not make any conclusions about wider implementation.

The NTIA announced Wednesday it is seeking public comment on technologies that are available to prevent contraband cell phone use in prisons.

Lawrence E. Strickling, the NTIA administrator, said the dangers of contraband cell phone use must be addressed.

“At the same time, we need to make sure that any technical solutions do not interfere with 911 calls, government or other legitimate cell phone use” in communities near prisons, Strickling said in a statement.

Steve Largent, president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, said the group will focus on informing federal agencies on how technology that does not interfere with cell phone signals, such as equipment that detects and roots out contraband cell phones, is better.

“These are preferred and superior solutions as they are lawful, currently available and would not cause interference for legal consumers or public safety officials,” Largent said.

The Federal Communication Commission can only allow federal agencies — not state or local authorities — permission to jam cell phone signals. But a bill that passed the Senate and awaits action by the House would allow states to petition the FCC to block the use of cell phones from state prisons.

A federal law from 1934 doesn’t allow state and local agencies to use the technology, which prevents cell tower transmissions from reaching the phone.

Prisons around the nation have been trying to stem rising problems from prison inmates using cell phones to coordinate criminal activity from behind bars.