October 22, 2008

Federal Pre-emption and the Airwaves [8:27 am]


SC prisons take on feds over jamming phone signals
(pdf)

South Carolina might already have started jamming cell phone signals in prisons to prevent convicts from committing further crimes, if it weren’t for one significant problem with the plan: It’s against the law.

The struggle to stop cell phone use in prisons — where some experts say the devices have become a new form of cash — has states trying old-fashioned cell searches, sophisticated body scanners, even dogs trained to sniff out batteries and memory chips. South Carolina’s state prison chief, Jon Ozmint, wants to add to those tactics with existing technology that blocks cell signals.

Standing in his way is the federal Communications Act, which prevents states from using jammers or otherwise interfering with federal airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission can give federal agencies the authority to use such jammers. But there’s no such provision for state and local law enforcement.

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