Federal bills would allow state prisons to jam cellphone signals

Federal bills would allow state prisons to jam cellphone signals

Federal bills would allow state prisons to jam cellphone signals.

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and U.S. Representative David Kustoff of Tennessee have introduced complementary bills in both houses, The Associated Press has learned.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Federal legislation proposed Thursday would give state prison officials the option they have long sought to jam cellphone signals smuggled to inmates within their walls.

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and U.S. Representative David Kustoff of Tennessee have introduced complementary bills in both houses, The Associated Press has learned.

The legislation could help provide a solution to a problem that prison authorities consider to be the main threat to the security of their institutions. Corrections chiefs across the country have long argued for the ability to jam signals, saying the phones — smuggled into their facilities by the thousands, by visitors, roaming employees and even delivered by drone — are dangerous because that inmates use them to commit crimes. and plot violence inside and outside the prison.

But the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation's airwaves, said a decades-old ban on interrupting signals at state-level institutions prevents the agency from allowing jamming at that level. Wireless industry groups have said they are concerned that signal blocking technologies could thwart legal calls.

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Prison officials, including South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling, pushed for signal jamming, saying it was the best way to combat the dangerous devices. In 2017, Stirling testified at an FCC hearing in Washington alongside Robert Johnson, a former South Carolina corrections officer who was nearly killed in 2010 in a hit orchestrated by an inmate using an illegal phone.

Also that year, an inmate escaped from a maximum-security prison in South Carolina, thanks in part to a contraband cellphone. In 2018, seven inmates at a South Carolina maximum-security prison were killed in what authorities said was a gang fight over territory and contraband, including cellphones.

The FCC has shown its willingness to work on the issue, holding an on-the-ground hearing in South Carolina at the invitation of the then government. Nikki Haley. Last year, honoring his promise to do so, President Ajit Pai hosted a meeting with members of Congress, prison officials and wireless industry stakeholders.

After last year's meeting, Kustoff told the AP he was encouraged by the FCC's action on the issue. Officials from wireless trade group CTIA, who also attended the meeting, thanked Pai for organizing the rally and said its members "recognize the very real threat posed by contraband devices in correctional facilities around the world." countries, and we appreciate the commitment of all stakeholders to identify and implement legal solutions to this problem. "

Signal jammer is legal in federal facilities, although it has not been used. Last year, federal officials tested micro-jamming technology at a federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland, saying they were able to cut off phone signals inside a prison cell, while devices about 6 meters away operated normally.