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Germany to jam prisoners' mobile phones

We're jammin' in the name of the law

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The German federal government is preparing a law that would allow the use of mobile phone jammers during major events, and in prisons. Blocking the use by criminals of mobile phones is seen as an important counter-terrorism weapon.

By transmitting on the same radio frequencies as the mobile phone, a phone jammer can effortlessly stifle annoying chatter in movie theatres, at funerals or in hospitals. However, in many countries, including Germany, the technology is officially illegal. Phone jammers not only disrupt licensed services operated by the mobile carriers, but also other services operating in adjacent bands.

The German government now seeks support for phone jammers to prevent unauthorised calls made by inmates. Mobile phones are often smuggled in through heavy prison security with the help of corrupt guards. In Texas alone investigators seized 135 cell phones in prisons last year, and the number was 90 through to mid-April this year. Prisons claim it is extremely difficult to detect the use of illegal mobile phones in prisons. Phone jammers could also be used in emergencies.

German IT industry group Bitkom strongly opposes the Bundestag's plans, according to news service Heise Online. Bitkom argues that the plans are technically impractical. To prevent calls in a soccer stadium or in a prison, the jammer would need a lot of power. Jammers could block phone conversations in nearby neighborhoods and cause network instability and quality, Bitkom says.

This month, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) rejected requests from the local government to install mobile phone jammers in maximum security prisons. ACMA also believes phone jammers will interfere with communications devices outside jails. ®

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