I’ve been following the adventures of CellAntenna, the company that wants to sell cellphone jamming devices in the U.S., for awhile now. As lots of folks would love to jam cell phones — from hotels that hate losing the revenue from charging for use of their phones to theater venues that want customers to enjoy the show to schools trying to tamp down on texting in class — you would think there would be lots of these jammers on the market. The problem, of course, is that Section 333 of the Communications Act (47 U.S.C. 333) makes cell phone jamming illegal. Just in case anyone missed this rather straightforward statutory prohibition, the FCC officially clarified that Section 333 means “no cell phone jammers” in 2005.
Enter CellAnntenna, determined to sell cell phone jammers legally. If you are going to develop a legal on something illegal, you either need something real clever (like magic cellphone blocking nanopaint), or a strategy for changing the law coupled with the sort of stubbornness that does not mind slamming into a brick wall 99 times because you might dent it on the hundreth time. CellAntenna has apparently followed this later strategy — and may be making some headway.
CellAntenna initially tried to get courts to declare Section 333 unconstitutional. So far as I can tell, that’s going nowhere. Next, and far more successfully, CellAntenna has recruited prisons to push the idea that only cellphone jammers can resolve the problem that prison security sucks rocks. This has prompted a bill to create a “prison waiver” exception to Section 333 (House version here) and a raft of credulous stories like this one that prefer to ask “isn’t it awful that we can’t jam cell phones” rather than ask “what the $#@! do you mean we can’t secure our ‘maximum security’ prisons?”
I explore the issues, and why I think creating an exception to Sec. 333 would be a big mistake, below . . . .
Ever since the FCC explicitly banned cell phone jammers back in 2005, a company called Cellantenna has been working its little heart out to get Section 333 of the Communications Act declared unconstitutional or otherwise get the FCC to legalize cell phone jammers. (Not surprisingly, CellAntenna hopes to sell cell phone jammers, among other equipment.)
CellAntenna’s latest scheme is to focus on the issue of unauthorized cell phone use by prisoners. I’ll confess, I think the bigger problem is stopping the smuggling in the first place or keeping prisoners under observation so they cannot use cell phones. Or — if I wanted to be real daring — set up detectors and tap into cell phone calls made from prison cells (guards should so not be using their cell phones on duty, so they don’t worry me — set up secure areas where prisoners are not permitted if there is a real issue).
But even assuming a real problem, I don’t see that this gets CellAntenna where it wants to go. If state and federal penitentiaries want to petition the FCC for special permission for a waiver of Section 333, that should not be too difficult. But that’s a rather small market in the grand scheme of things.
Folks hoping for legal cell phone jammers anytime soon should not hold their breath.
Stay tuned . . . .
CellAntenna, a company that sells wireless equipment, has decided to challenge the FCC’s ban on cell phone jammers. As some of you may recall, about a year and a half ago the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a public notice that 47 U.S.C. 333 makes it illegal for people to market or use cell phone jammers in this country. (By which I mean active intentional jamming, as the jury is still out on the passive cellphone jamming nano-paint.)
According to the article, CellAntenna has some theory that Section 333 and the FCC’s general authority under the Communications Act are trumped by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Since cell phones are used by terrorists to trigger bombs, they appear to argue in the article, the public security mandate outweighs Sec. 333 and the FCC’s determination on its general authority over the use of radio spectrum to prohibit cell phone jammers.
I confess that, based solely on the reading from the article, I’m highly skeptical. Why?
See below . . .
Unnoticed by most folks, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a public notice on the legality of cell phone jammers. (They aren’t.) Oddly, this may have very significant impacts for users of unlicensed spectrum.