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Prison boss demands right to jam inmates' cellphones...

Can you hear me now? Yes? Damn.

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South Carolina's state prison chief Jon Ozmint is fighting for the right to deploy mobile phone jammers, in order to prevent criminals from staying in touch while they're out of circulation.

Ozmint believes it's impossible to control the flow of handsets into the prison even with random cell and body searches, and that mobes are becoming a currency within the penal system. Instances of lags running their criminal empires remotely abound, with at least one hit reportedly organised from the comfort of a prison cell. Ozmint reckons that the majority of prison escapes are coordinated using cellular technology.

But jamming can only be deployed by Federal officials, and even then only where absolutely necessary. Although manufacturers have lobbied the FCC and the Department of Homeland Security to allow them to sell their technology to local law enforcement, the increased risks of interfering with essential communications and of jammers falling into the wrong hands have prevented any change in the law thus far.

The South Carolina proposal is slightly different, in that the chief wants jamming technology fitted around the prison and permanently activated. Radio specialists CellAntenna Corp has said it can provide kit that will only block signals within the prison, and promises that even directly outside the prison walls the jamming will go unnoticed.

Technically there's no particular difficultly in jamming most mobile phone systems. Blanketing the frequency with interference is the most basic way, but cleverer options exist, such as creating a dummy base-station that connects to no-where, or blocking the windows with a suitable fabric. But regardless of technology used, it's also going to prevent legitimate mobe use as well, and thereby fall foul of the federal Communications Act, summed up by Jon Ozmint:

"It's just hypocrisy beyond the pale of reason that the big bad federal government goes, 'Oh, well, we can use this technology, but you poor little states can't use the same technology to protect your citizens.'"

It seems unlikely that South Carolina will manage to get Congress to change the law, but with backing from companies keen to sell the jamming technology it could well be the start of a bigger push to prevent in-cell cellular comms. ®

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