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Elgan: Legalize cell phone jammers?

Should prisons and police be allowed to jam cell phones? Should movie theaters? Should you?

February 21, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Jamming a cell phone is illegal in the U.S. Very illegal. And not just by ordinary citizens. It's illegal for theater and restaurant owners to jam calls, and even state and local police or prison officials. The U.S., in fact, has the strictest laws in the world against jamming cell calls.

U.S. law prohibits not only buying, selling, carrying or owning a cell phone jammer, but also posting a Craigslist ad that claims you're selling one. If you're caught with a jammer, you could face up to $11,000 in fines and up to one year in prison.

The ban against cell phone jammers isn't new. In fact, it's the musty old 1934 Communications Act that bans the jamming of any commercial radio communication, a law that predates not only jammers but cell phones themselves.

Cell phone jammer laws vary throughout the world. In the U.K. and Japan, for example, anyone can own a jammer -- as long as they don't use it.

Dozens of countries, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Turkey and others, allow the police or prison officials to use jammers.

Chinese and Indian schools use jammers to stop cheaters. Mexico allows jammers in churches and hospitals. And Pakistan allows jamming in banks and libraries.

Most countries, including the U.S., use jammers to thwart cell phone-triggered bomb attacks against government leaders. When President Obama walked down Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration, all cell phones were jammed in the area. The U.S. military uses jammers to stop roadside bomb attacks in Iraq.

In fact, the harsh laws against jammers in the U.S. apply to everyone except federal government officials. Which raises the question: Is that right?

U.S. prisons want to use jammers. So do police. And while we're at it, so do many movie theaters, restaurants and other businesses. Some individuals want to use jammers as well.

Who decided that only federal officials can be trusted with cell phone jammers?



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