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Cell Phone Jamming in Prisons: Something France and UK Can Both Agree On

Students of history know that France and the UK have rarely agreed on anything. However, a recent visit to the 2 countries confirmed that jamming cell phones in prisons is one thing they actually do agree on, although they reached this consensus independently.

The above French text is from a 2002 law approved by the French Parliament and signed by President Chirac. It permits jamming in both within the walls of prisons (l'enceinte des établissements pénitentiaires) and also in performance halls (les salles de spectacles) such as concert halls and theaters. (Note that no responsible parties in the US advocate permitting cell phone jamming in anything comparable to les salles de spectacles.)

While there is no comparable law or regulation in the UK, a well placed industry source confirmed that Ofcom, the UK regulator, recently helped a number of UK government departments and mobile operators reach agreement on this, resulting in a confidential MoU between them paves the way for jammers in prisons.

Now it is puzzling why UK and French cellular operators are willing to help their governments solve the real public safety crisis of cell phones in prisons while the US cellular operators cling to their interpretation of 47 USC 333 that FCC does not have jurisdiction to do so. At the recent FCC public forum on the issue, all speakers from other than the cellular industry advocated allowing both jamming and “managed access”.

Question for those who advocate the above reading of Section 333: Section 333 mentions neither FCC nor NTIA (or the President who has delegated his Section 305 authority to NTIA). Why is it obvious that NTIA can authorize jamming and FCC can’t? The legislative history of this section is very different than this interpretation of restricting FCC jurisdiction.

Note that Section 303 explicitly exempts NTIA from its terms. If Congress meant that Section 333 didn’t apply to NTIA, why didn’t it say so?

§ 333. Willful or malicious interference

No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this chapter or operated by the United States Government.

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