Cell Phone Jamming Is Bad IdeaWritten by: Rob Print This Article
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As the citizens of Western democracies pursue their inalienable right to flush all their civil rights down the toilet in the name of the global wars on terrorism and rudeness, fans of cell phone jamming technology have brought up how wonderful the world would be if your cell phone could be put out of service on demand of the appropriate authorities at the appointed times. Such authorities apparently include national security, military, and law enforcement agencies plus movie theater and restaurant owners and religious zealots.
Who Can Jam Legally?
In the USA (Union of Subverted Americans — United States of America in politically-correct-speak) today, it’s illegal for anybody but the biggest brother, the US Federal Government, to jam cell phone operations. Although the FBI and Secret Service have standing authority to jam to their heart’s content, other Feds often are required to apply for legal waivers to gain permission to use cell phone jamming. Whether they really do this or not and just jam away without permission is anybody’s guess. Their confidence-destroying civil-rights-impairing actions of recent years raise questions about whether the government understands that the laws are supposed to apply to them, too. Given this and the difficulty of detecting a jamming operation without relatively expensive equipment such as RF spectrum analyzers, we think that the government can hide in the grey zone provided how most people wouldn’t know their lost phone call is due to government jamming or cell service provider coverage gaps.
Cell Jamming Advocates
Be that as it may, there are definitely some very vocal fans of cell phone jamming. CellAntenna, a vendor of such jamming equipment, is one of them. It’s CEO, Howard Melamed, unapologetically says in regards to cell phone jamming “Chances are, you wouldn’t even notice it was there.” Most of us aren’t living with our cell phones glued to our heads all the time, so admittedly there’s a decent shot we wouldn’t be trying to make a phone call in the jamming zone when it’s up and running. But apparently prisoners are, so CellAntenna has products designed for jamming phones in prisons.
Cell phone jamming became popularized in part by the military in its understandably important quest to prevent roadside explosive devices from being blown up by remote control as troops and equipment passed by. Some improvised explosive devices use cell phones as triggers. With nifty features such as special ring tones, it’s likely not all that hard to devise a detonator that will blow up a bomb when called from a certain number but won’t do so if anybody else accidentally calls. The back-up plan could be using the alarm clock feature common in cell phones to detonate the bomb off at a set time in the event that the trigger-person got snuffed in the meantime. Oh, the wonders of consumer electronics!
While we’re fans of the idea of being able to watch a movie or play without a phone ringing and people talking, and can imagine how the religiously-inclined might want to be ringer-free during masses and inquisitions, we don’t think that cell phone jamming technology is a reasonable way to achieve this. It disables communications that could be important for emergency services, whether those are of the traditional 911 type or family or work emergencies.
How Does Cell Jamming Work?
As cell jammers are typically implemented, they spread a disruptive signal across the RF bands used by cell phones to temporarily prevent the phones from connecting to the cell network towers, thereby preventing phone calls and wireless Internet access. This would not be popular with parents whose 14 year old babysitter is calling to report that little 5 year old Johnny just swallowed the game pieces for Monopoly and could they please come home and take him to the hospital.
More seriously for the government, even in scenarios in which cell phone jamming has been suggested for use at disabling criminals or terrorist groups from communicating to avert or counteract law enforcement and military raids, we don’t think cell phone jamming is really going to be that effective.
There are many other ways of communicating that don’t depend upon cell phones. For instance, the hypothetical “drug dealer lookout” could simply use a cordless phone or computing device using 802.11 wireless networking to send a warning if cell phones are jammed. If the cordless phone and 802.11 frequencies are jammed, too, then they could simply devise the means for the lookout on the corner to unobtrusively hand-signal somebody inside a building with a wired phone line or Internet connection to send the warning.
Unless the government is planning to EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse — it fries electronics and is notably associated with airborne nuclear weapons detonations, although there are less lethal ways of generating it) blast the area or shut down all telecommunications connectivity including wired connectivity in addition to jamming widely ranging RF bands for at least thousands of feet around their target to block all of those supposed remote lookouts, cell phone jamming isn’t going to buy much advantage over a reasonably well-prepared adversary. But it will most definitely take out the ability of unprepared citizenry to call for help when they are shot, bombed, gassed, or otherwise wounded in an attack by the criminals, terrorists, or their government adversaries.
In the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, the government forces were assisted by citizens who used their cell phones to report the locations of terrorists and what they were doing. Indiscriminate use of traditional cell phone jamming would disable this information collection mechanism.
Widespread Use Of Cell Jamming Would Lead To Effective Countermeasures
We suspect that if cell phone jamming were to become widely used, it would be just a short time before the criminals and terrorists figured out how to counter it. For wealthy criminal minds, spectrum analyzers connected to omni-directional antenna could give them a good heads-up warning of when wireless jamming starts. It’s a passive detection technique that wouldn’t be easily countered by the commonly available jammers that flood RF bands with interference to accomplish their jamming. They might even get a better warning of impending attack than if the government didn’t use any jammers at all.
Instead of cell phone jamming, we advocate a dual prong approach to achieving safe raids and ringer-free movie theaters. Both of them involve making use of the cell network rather than just shutting it off.
For one, the concept of “lawful intercept” of phone communications is already well established. Even satellite phone systems such as Globalstar had government requirements placed upon them for implementing such a feature as a condition of operating permits. So in the true civil-rights-mean-nothing tradition espoused by the cell jamming fans, we would instead advocate using lawful intercept on cell calls.
The conversations of the criminals and terrorists could be monitored and used against them, such as by timing the taking out of individual criminals after check-in reports or determining information that might aid the authorities. We also think it would not be too much to ask technologically for E911 position location to be used to help reveal the phones’ locations during a legally authorized communications interference session. Taking this a step further, we think cell phone spoofing would be another obvious measure to use that would be hard to completely counteract. Simply spoof up some phone numbers known to call the targets and then feed them bad information. Text messages might be ideal for this since there’s no voice to imitate.
As for upping the pleasure factors of the “no ringing in my church!” sort of people, this does likely involve software upgrades for both phones and network. Since E911 position location is a required feature of phones sold in the US today, we’d advocate adding a “default silent notification” feature to the phones and networks that uses time and location to determine when to switch off the audible ringer and switch on the silent vibrator mode. An authorized party with ownership of a particular geographic area could inform the cell phone service providers in that area of a schedule of when phones should “silently ring” and display a “no talking allowed” message on their displays to remind users that they will have to step outside to be able to be heard. They are free to listen or to text, but can’t speak and be heard. Yes, there are some logistical issues with complicated time/location maps taking cell network bandwidth to communicate to phones and questions about privacy if locations have to be transmitted back to the cell network. However, the solution is technologically possible and could be readily phased in over a couple of year period of time without significant costs to anybody except for those who want to pay a service fee for their default silent ringing zones.
Alternatively, simple Bluetooth style gizmos could be designed to notify phones that they are in a silent zone. This would of course require several of them per location and require phones with updated software, but would avoid the questions associated with compromised location privacy and consuming cell network bandwidth to implement the silent ringer default.