March 30, 2009
Watch out for cell phone jammers
PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie
Watch out for cell phone jammers. If they haven’t already done so, criminals may soon be adding the use of cell phone “jammers” to their tool kit of nefarious activities. These handheld devices are able to cause a “Denial of Service” or “DOS Attack” they are sold through various online stores for between $1,000 and $2,000, but the fine for possessing one can be more than $10,000. These devices can be very small—one model is said to “fit in to any empty cigarette box”—but pack a serious punch, jamming wireless signals for a radius of about 100 feet from the device once it’s activated.
In recent weeks, several PoliceOne members have shared concerns for officer safety that can arise with the use of mobile phone jamming technology. These devices can be very small—one model is said to “fit in to any empty cigarette box”—but pack a serious punch.
Andrew M. Seybold, who by all accounts is one of the world’s foremost experts on all matters related to wireless technology, said in a recent column for FierceWireless that while such devices are “illegal and dangerous” the use of them is on the increase. According to several news reports on the issue, it is believed that a significant number of movie theatres, restaurants, casinos, schools, and even churches are buying cell jammers.
Seybold wrote: “One of the latest incidents involved the Mount Spokane school system, which installed a jammer to keep its students from using their phones during classes... The jammer also knocked out the county sheriff's cross-band repeater used for police communications and SWAT team activity when needed.”
The Mount Spokane school district has subsequently scrapped the program.
One instance last fall in Canada made national news there, with the Ottawa Sun reporting that the RCMP has “warned every police agency in the country about cellphone jammers after two Quebec officers were left with two suspects and dead radios on a darkened highway” there.
Because these jammers are also effective against police radio communications (as has been clearly illustrated with the Mount Spokane incident), several safety alerts to be circulated in recent weeks to warn of the possibility that officer safety can be affected by these devices.
Although FCC Rules Sec. 333 states that “No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications” the agency lacks any real ability to enforce that code.