FCC Seeks Cell Phone-Jammer Input

FCC Seeks Cell Phone-Jammer Input Incidents in Philadelphia and San Francisco have the Federal Communications Commission wondering what problems private citizens jamming wireless communications might present.

Both CBS News and CNN report that the emerging consumer availability of cell phone jammers captured the FCC's interest not long after a story broke Friday that a Philadelphia bus passenger used a device that jammed fellow passengers' devices when he found their conversations intrusive on his peace and quiet. The devices range in price online from $40 to around $1,000, according to CNN.com, but security experts claim that private citizens may end up hindering more communications than intended.

Jammer legality varies internationally, but in the United States, they're illegal to sell, own or use without government say-so. Illegal use carries a maximum $16,000 fine and jail time. Results could have been catastrophic had the Philadelphia man, identified by Philadelphia TV station NBC 10 simply as "Eric," cut off the bus driver's communication with transit authorities or dispatchers. He could have just as easily interfered with 911 communications or other vital public communication channels.

On the other hand, the FCC also became aware of a San Francisco incident in which Mass Transit authorities jammed signals because they feared protesters may covertly organize a mob.

"The general public doesn't realize what they're jamming if they were to start using these things," said Rutgers University assistant computer and information technology professor Richard Mislan. "What's not obvious is all the wireless connectivity systems that are in the background and maintaining data communication in our daily lives."

Just as disconcerting, what if a passenger had missed a personally or professionally critical call? "Who is he to play God with our cell phones?" Mislan wondered. Eric seemingly doesn't care. He's proud he threw off his fellow passengers.

"A lot of people are extremely loud, no sense of, just, privacy or anything," he said. "When it becomes a bother, that's when I screw on the antenna and flip the switch."

The FCC's public statement didn't outright condemn the devices' potential private and unauthorized usage. It only requested feedback. The FCC's primary concern is currently wireless carriers and authorized agents jamming their own signals at a government agency's behest, as occurred in San Francisco.

"Any intentional interruption of wireless service, no matter how brief or localized, raises significant concerns and implicates legal and policy questions . . . We are concerned that there has been in sufficient discussion, analysis and consideration of the questions raised by intentional interruptions of wireless service by government authorities."

Concerned citizens may comment on the FCC's six primary talking points surrounding the issue until April 30, with replies due May 30: best practices and precedents for jamming; bases for interrupting wireless service; risks in interrupting service; scope of interruption; authority to interrupt service; and finally, legal constraints on interrupting service.

For more information and to provide feedback, visit www.FCC.gov.