FCC Wants To Know If It Sometimes Might Be Okay To Jam Cellphones In Interest Of Public Safety

Chief among the reasons given by the Federal Communications Commission for outlawing the practice of using signal-jamming devices for cellphones is public safety. With 70% of 911 calls now made on wireless devices, the FCC has argued that deliberately blocking cell signals could put people at risk. That being said, the agency is now willing to hear from people who think it might occasionally be in the public interest to jam wireless signals.

“While the important function that wireless service plays in protecting public safety is undisputed, some commentators, including some law enforcement personnel, have raised concerns that wireless networks can be used in way that put the public’s safety at risk,” writes the FCC in its notice to seek public comment on the matter.

Those in favor of the selective use of cellphone jamming say that wireless networks could be used to detonate an explosive device, or organize a flash mob — not the “let’s all do a stupid dance in the mall food court” kind of flash mob; the kind that result in looting and violence.

“We are concerned that there has been insufficient discussion, analysis, and consideration of the questions raised by intentional interruptions of wireless service by government authorities,” explains the FCC.

The regulators are not currently interested in chatting about the use of illegal jamming devices — like the one used by this Philadelphia man to quiet his fellow bus riders — but are instead focused on situations where wireless carriers interrupt their own services in a specific area for a limited period of time period at the request of authorities.

FCC says that there is an existing protocol for governments to request service interruptions in case of emergency, but is asking for interested parties to answer a series of questions like:
*What public safety risks arise from intentionally interrupting wireless service? How are the activities of first responders and other emergency personnel and government authorities affected by an intentional interruption of wireless service? How are the activities of consumers affected by an intentional interruption of wireless service?

*Are there situations where the risk of interrupting wireless service will always outweigh the benefits?

*Can wireless carriers implement a general service interruption, but still ensure that the public can make wireless 911 calls? Would a service disruption that permits wireless 911 calls, but otherwise prohibits voice, text, and data communications, achieve the same purpose as a blanket interruption? Would it pose any unique risks to persons with disabilities?

To read the entire FCC request for comment, check out the PDF here.


Edit Your Comment

  1. DemosCat says:

    When exactly is it in the PUBLIC’s interest to jam cell phones? Certainly it can be in the government’s interest, as when cell phones where blanked out just before an Occupy raid.

    • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

      Tadah! Exactly.
      Look at how wireless communications enabled revolution in the middle east just last year. Naturally, they’d bring up T-E-R-R-O-R-I-S-M when the real objective is to squash protest and blood-of-tyrants-and-patriots stuff.

      Incidentally, couldn’t an IED go off in response to a loss of signal? Funny thing, boolean algebra is.

      • dolemite says:

        Yup. We aren’t fooled. “We know what is best for you, citizen.”

      • Coleoptera Girl says:

        If the IED went off due to a loss of signal, couldn’t it be argued that it was the person who blocked the signal that set it off and not the person who set up the explosive?

        • CTrees says:

          For things like IEDs, you’re looking at one of the few times strict liability attaches. So yeah, that’s a fun question for an ethics class, but the law has it pretty well figured out.

      • guroth says:

        because dropped calls never happen

    • xantec says:

      I dunno. Jamming the signal in a movie theater would be in the public’s best interest. Then we wouldn’t have to put up with the jerks who use their phone during a movie or get a call in the middle of a concert.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Couldn’t agree with this more. It seems like it could be used to unfairly target people/groups of people just because. I am doubtful that it could actually be helpful in helping do anything with a bomb. Someone who rigs up a bomb will probably have it pretty well figured out so that a jammer won’t stop them, and may actually make the bomb go off.

      As annoying as some people on phones can be, I can’t see any legit reason to block their use except in private businesses such as movie theaters, where one jerk can ruin the experience of everyone in the theater. But they also need to have emergency phones available that will dial out to 911 in case of emergency.

      I am not usually one to join in with the conspiracy crap about our freedoms being taken away, but things like this, cops being able to look at our cell phones, etc… make me wonder if our freedoms aren’t being slowly erroded in a way that many people don’t really notice.

      • Snoofin says:

        IM really tired of this “if there is an emergency what will they do” crap. What did we do in 1980 when there was an emergency.? We asked to use the phone at the business we were at or used a payphone. We could still do that and also its free to call 911 from a payphone

        • bluline says:

          And where are the pay phones now? Most have been removed because no one uses them anymore. As for businesses letting you use their phone, many have policies against that and even the ones that will let you use the phone can’t do it if the business is closed for the day.

        • DemosCat says:

          In 1980, cell phones did not exist. The Motorola DynaTAC, better known as “the brick” was the first practical cell phone. It was first marketed in 1983 for a mere $3995. So not too many people had then.

          Unless you were the rare person with a radio phone installed in your car, used a pay phone in 1980.

          Have you seen any pay phones lately? They have all but disappeared, and will soon be gone completely.

    • Necoras says:

      Prisons. There’s no reason that anyone in a prison needs access to their cell phone. Even the staff can make do with a hard line, or a radio on a different frequency.

      • DemosCat says:

        Given that prisoners are not supposed to have cell phones in the first place, it sounds like a lot of trouble to deliberately jam a prison just on the off chance a cell phone was smuggled in. Seems like it would be too easy to detect and confiscate. Better for prisoners to rely on tried and true message smuggling.

        You wouldn’t want the jamming signal to bleed out past the prison grounds lest you interfere with the public at large.

        What about visitors? Are they not allowed to use their phones? Do prisons have an existing policy of no cell phone use by visitors or staff?

        • zombie_batch says:

          Cell phones are not a rarity for prisoners to possess. They turn them off to conserve battery which also conveniently renders them undetectable.

          Prison wardens have long asked for the right to use cell jammers in their prison. There are ways for prison guards to still use their cells that I can imagine: a modified version of the home cell phone tower that only allows phones with a unique whatever (PIN, phone number, etc etc) to access it would work. They could simply block wireless signals with material readily available on the market today from entering areas/entire prison if they wanted to and control access with their jail-managed cell towers. I’m not even a phone engineer; I’m sure they would have many ideas on how to implement a system like this.

          • DemosCat says:

            Thanks. I was unaware of the issue with illicit cell phones in prison. I’m not an engineer either, but I could see setting up a special microcell tower for the prison that only responded to an approved list of phones based on SIM card.

            Not a jam as such, but the prison area cell tower could simply ignore unapproved phones. Given that phone systems already have to be able to distinguish between active and inactive phone accounts, a setup like that doesn’t sound that hard to implement.

      • CharlesFarley says:


      • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

        Wait…what the hell made you think of that??

    • bluline says:

      This isn’t about public safety. It’s about the government wanting to squash public protests.

  2. Lucky225 says:

    If you want to jam cellphone signals you’ll need to jam wireless as well. All it takes is a nearby wifi hotspot for the cell to lock onto and then the cellphone user can use VoIP to override your attempt of blocking their calls in your interest of public safety. Jamming may be good at somewhere like a prison or something, but with wifi all over the place, doing it in a public setting will only discourage the most stupid of people, the less stupid but still moronic will just download a VoIP app readily availale on the market. Hell even jamming cellular frequencies may not block a person’s access to 4g/3g which can be on different spectrum to place the call over, no wifi needed.

  3. CubeRat says:

    See, if they didn’t ask, all of us cellphone users would just be yelling at the poor customer service people at our carrier. You know the carriers never tell the customer service people anything, so they couldn’t tell it was big brother at fault.

    Seriously, I don’t have a problem with this.

  4. Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

    Nobody should ever be able to jam or block wireless / communication networks from a remote point or over a wide area. I have no issue with localized jamming for areas of around a movie theater in size, active / deactivatable only by a person inside that area itself to allow for quick deactivation in case of emergency.

    • The Black Bird says:

      “I have no issue with localized jamming for areas of around a movie theater in size, active / deactivatable only by a person inside that area itself to allow for quick deactivation in case of emergency.”

      There is at least one inherent problem with that. Let me give you two examples;

      1. You are in a theater with someone. It looks like they are having a heart attack or something else that needs quick medical attention. You try your cell phone…nothing. You might try a second time…still nothing. By the time you get to a phone that works the person with you could be dead.

      Let’s say you know your cell phone won’t work because the theater has it posted. You still need to find your way out of the theater then find the person who can turn off the jamming. All the while precious seconds are being lost.

      2. You are in a restaurant, theater, etc. The baby sitter has your cell phone number. Something happens at home and the sitter needs to get in touch with you. S/he can’t because the signal is being blocked. You have no way of knowing there is an emergency until you get home.

      I know you could give the sitter the phone number of where you are going to be but this, once again, wastes precious moments. In fact if you are in a movie theater and the sitter calls s/he might have to wait until the end of the automated message before she can even get the “real” number to reach an actual person. By then…who knows?

      • Kuri says:

        Those are both cases where a land line wouldb e useful, but you do have a point, however, commercial places like restaurants and movie theaters are required to have a hard line, so those can still be used.

      • sponica says:

        you tell the babysitter we’re at this restaurant or this movie theater. here’s the number of the business and which movie we’re seeing.

        i mean, it’s how it worked in the olden times, right? (and by olden times I mean when I was a kid 20 yrs ago)

      • Doubting thomas says:

        ifrepliesit your babysitter is too incompetent to handle the emergency then why are you paying her/him? If I leave my son with a babysitter and they call me instead of 911 when there is an emergency where seconds or minutes count then they screwed up huge.

      • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

        Let me clue you into to how us old folks use to call someone before cell phones. Yes, there was a time that cell phones were never around.
        1.) You are in a theater…they have land lines
        2.) Restaurants have land lines too…so you give the babysitter the name and number of where you are eating at and a relatives name and number.

        Problem solved!!

  5. Cerne says:

    Yah lets give a corrupt, over powered, poorly supervised government agency the ability to stop one of out most commonly used avenues of communication. What could possibly go wrong? And the FCC has always been a defender of free speech so you know there would be no abuse.

  6. terinjokes says:

    I don’t see how jamming cell phones helps prevent remotely detonate bombs or organize flash mobs. People will just switch to another frequency.

    And good luck jamming the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

    • shepd says:

      Jamming the “entire” (well, okay, most of it) EM spectrum is a lot easier than jamming portions of it. A spark gap generator will do it easily, and you could built one yourself from about $2 in parts that you already have lying around the house. Of course, it won’t work over a long distance being that cheaply made, but within a foot or two, I imagine it would be effective.

    • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

      Thank you! I’ve been saying this for years!! The only people that this would benefit would not be the people. The only people this would affect would be the people it’s supposed to protect! There are so many ways around jamming that anyone with the determination to 1) remote detonate a bomb 2)what ever other meaningless reason they (FCC) gives would be able to plan for and figure out a head of time. It is a good way to stop/hinder the average people from twitting, calling, recording major events like police using pepper spray, etc. I’m really surprised they just don’t say we (FCC) will not jam the calls, but rather screen your calls for you….to protect yourself from harm…after all…it’s for the kids

  7. Tegan says:

    No, this is never OK. This would be to serve government interests, not public interests. Those are not the same, and have not been for a long time. I do not trust our government to handle this ability responsibly.

  8. jrwn says:

    Um, flash mobs are just that, in one minute, out the next. How are they going to block the signals if it takes them 5 minutes to show up. I can see if they are at a doughnut show, the cops will just flip the switch, but most of the time that will not happen.

    The only way to really do this would be to have jammers installed all over.

  9. Torchwood says:

    No cell phone jammers please. I really really don’t like the slippery slope this can cause all in the name of “anti-terrorism” and “public safety”.

  10. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Am I the only one who thinks they need to stop calling organized criminals who get together and get violent and destructive a flash mob? Flash mobs are fun. Call the bad guys something else.

    • DrPizza says:

      95% of the “fun flash mobs” aren’t even that. They’re an unsolicited public performance in a public place by some dance club or other organization who think they’re being clever. The only flash mobs that really were entertaining were those which organized a bunch of strangers to do some oddball thing. If I wanted to see Jim Bob’s Music students do a performance, I’d go to the theater where they were performing.

      • pythonspam says:

        I want to see Improv Everywhere do things that you would undoubtedly call a flash mob.
        As long as it doesn’t impinge on true public safety, traffic flow, businesses rights to throw out the bums, etc., I am all for it.

        Why can’t life be a musical?

  11. shepd says:

    Sure, but you aren’t going to be doing it with a $30 cheap crap device barfing over the entire spectrum. A LOT of people will hate you for that, and they aren’t using cellphones, they’re using CW, and they have a lot more pull with the FCC than anyone you know of. You’ll need a license and you will need to use equipment that doesn’t interfere with anything but what it is intending to interfere with.

  12. ned4spd8874 says:

    I wish movie theaters used these jammers!

  13. WarriorKitty says:

    If it’s really that important to jam signals in a particular area, I am sure we- the lowly citizens of our nation- wouldn’t know about it.

    That said: A MOVIE THEATER IS NOT REASON ENOUGH TO JAM SIGNALS. I had to live by my phone when my husband was deployed. I have always been a polite user, and left a theater when my phone vibrated (no lighting up, either). Now that he’s been seriously injured and we’re recovering at a military hospital, it is crucial to get the calls from doctors and our case manager. This doesn’t mean spouses of deployed service members and other people who *need* to have their phone on them at all times shouldn’t participate in the things life has to offer. It just means we need to be polite about it. It sucks most other people are rude jackasses, but that’s what happens when you go out into public. Even worse is the entitled ass who thinks a movie is reason enough to jam phones.

    • Agent Hooter Enjoys Enhanced Patdowns says:

      Do you… do you not get the hypocritical entitlement in YOUR arguement?

      … not sure if troll…

      • RandomLetters says:

        She’s paid to see the movie just like everyone else in the theater. If her phone on vibrate “rings” during the show and she gets up and leaves to take the call then thats no different from a person leaving to go to the bathroom or snack bar. I don’t see any hypocritical entitlement in her statement. The ass thats jamming the signals on the other hand is breaking federal law and could be the cause of someones death (doctors & surgeons have the right to see movies to and might be needed in an emergency at thier hospital).

    • Doubting thomas says:

      Are you a doctor? If something were to happen to your husband (god forbid and best of luck to him in his recovery) what could you possibly accomplish by knowing 2 hours or less later? Doubly so when he was actually deployed.

      • WarriorKitty says:

        Oh Jesus, really? That’s your retort? What about YOUR family members? How would you feel if you sat through a movie while someone was laid up in the hospital- not doing well- and you didn’t get to know and be there and make decisions for them (something next of kin does, such as a parent or spouse, in case you didn’t know) because movies are suddenly reason enough for a cell phone jammer? And no, I wouldn’t go to a movie if my husband were in surgery or the hospital. But certainly there are last minute appointments that get made often here, and getting those calls is important. We also have to wait on word about certain medications, as well. And when he goes without medications, it isn’t good for anyone.

        Look, I hate assholes as much as the next guy. I’ve definitely complained to movie management about a baby screaming during a rated R film. If it is really bad, I’ll simply leave and ask for my money back. If I’m feeling like being an asshole myself, I might say something to the offending person. Who knows. I just know a movie isn’t reason enough to deny people access to their communication. If a movie theater wants to employ this tactic, fine. They can advertise it all over their site and walls. I wouldn’t go there.

  14. kc2idf says:

    No. Next question.

  15. kella says:

    Give cops cell phone jammers and their primary use will be to stop people from live streaming video. After all, it doesn’t matter if they grab your phone and delete the video if you already uploaded the video to the web, so they’ll want to kill the data connection on the phone as well.

    Another commenter mentioned prisons, that might be the only place I can think of where (fixed-location) jammers might be justified. In any case, the jammers should be licensed to the entity that’s deploying them.

    • jake.valentine says:

      What is wrong with live streaming video?!? I’m not seeing why the cops would even be interested in that ability, let alone how it would be in the public interest.

      • kc2idf says:

        I think you’re thinking of the stream going to the phone. The parent post is about streaming video from the phone.

        A common tactic of police being videorecorded is to cause the recording medium to become destroyed or go missing. By streaming the video from your smartphone, you are making a real-time backup of the recording, and one that is located out of the reach of the police on the scene. They can seize the phone, but they can’t seize the recording.

        The parent poster’s concern is that police will use jammers to prevent such streaming from being possible, thereby taking a very powerful tool out of the hands of those who would document police misconduct.

  16. mstrmike says:

    Our prisons and jails are fighting a losing battle at keeping cellphones out. This has allowed gang leaders to continue their criminal activities from inside. It’s the main example I was able to think of, but certainly is valid enough to void the never-ever argument.

  17. gman863 says:

    Many newer home and business alarm systems use a cellular signal box to notify the alarm company, based on the logic that, if a thief cuts the phone line(s), it won’t disable the alarm signal.

    Look for today’s modern burglars and bank robbers to start using cell phone jamming devices in three…two…one…

    • Snoofin says:

      People who are rich enough to afford a monitored security system and rich enough to buy new stuff when their stuff gets stolen

      • bhr says:

        You realize that alarm systems are not exactly expensive right? These are not 1%ers, but legitimately middle class folks who feel that $20-30/month is worth it. Also they are often single women, folks with kids or seniors. I don’t have one in my current rental, but I did in my house because of the occasional break in in the neighborhood, I could (with insurance) afford to replace stolen items, but the piece of mind to know it was there was invaluable, and the work required to replace items stolen is not insubstantial.

      • Doubting thomas says:

        wow, feeling that class eny today aren’t we? Alarm systems aren’t a tool of your 1% boogeymen. Those guys pay for live armed security. Alarm systems are primarily used by the middle class. I have one in my home and if I was robbed I could afford to replace some of the things that were stolen, but as for all the photographs and family docs on my laptop and back-up systems I would be screwed. Besides, your they could afford to replace it BS is just plain stupid and condescending. If some dirtbag broke into your home and stole a loaf of bread or a single T-shirt you could afford to replace them but your home would still have been violated.

  18. suez says:

    What, and prevent what many of the Arab nations could not? Don’t kid yourselves–this is a move by the government to prevent a civilian revolt. And they’re courting corporations about it because they’d most likely be responsible for inspiring the revolt.

  19. Razor512 says:

    jamming cellphones wont add to public safety and the bomb argument is stupid because cellphones use just a few of millions of frequencies, jam 4 of them and people will just use one of the other 100+ million.

    cellphones are jammed out of convenience, eg if they were to be used in a movie theater, (eg a parabolic antenna on the ceiling creating a cellphone deadzone for people mainly in the seats so if they want to use their phone, they must then step out of the room or go into a corner where it will be easy to spot them and kick them out for using their phone during the movie and bothering everyone else.

    the flash mob argument is also stupid as there are hundreds of ways to communicate, if people were set on forming one, the cellphone would not make much of a difference.

  20. Mark702 says:

    This is censorship, a violation of the First Amendment.

  21. Joseph S Ragman says:

    You can stop the violent/looting flash mobs and tons of other stupid shit by eliminating text messaging. It’s overpriced by the telco’s, and there are too many fucking idiots out there who think they’re self-important because they need to be able to receive the latest Talking Penis/Vagina joke, driving with their heads up their asses while killing innocent people on the highways.

    /rant … (maybe)

    Otherwise, I think cell phone jamming in and of itself is not a good idea from a safety standpoint.

    And if the Turrorists are gonna detonate a. IED, a cell phone is so thirty-seven seconds ago …

  22. Rachacha says:

    The ONLY time that I say it would be OK to block cell phone traffic would be if there was some form of disaster and the primary communication method for first responders was somehow damaged and they were relying on cell comminication as a backup. In such a situation, they would need to find a way to still allow 911 and other emergency calls to connect, but other calls would be blocked.

  23. Telekinesis123 says:

    And jam peoples cellphones during peaceful protests too right?

  24. SweetBearCub says:

    I gotta say, the thought of the gov jamming cell phone signals (or all EM signals in a certain radius) is very un-nerving. Not only are there ominous free speech inhibition or police brutality undertones, but I’d like to add a couple more wrinkles.

    I use a power wheelchair in daily life. The owner’s manual has a giant warning about keeping a 2-way radio (such as a cell phone) away from it while the chair or the radio is powered on. Like an idiot, I disregarded it. What’s out there today that a cell phone could interfere with? Long story short, I was chatting it up with a friend, and my chair shot forward and wrecked 3 tables in a mall food court. Which was quite a thing, since my hand wasn’t on the joystick when it moved. Bruised my shins, freaked me out. I reported it to the company and my DME dealer, they reiterated the RF interference warnings in the manual, and said they’d look into it. Nothing more. Other manufacturers all have similar warnings. I asked what the distance threshold was, and I was told “within 1 foot or less of the hand control or main computer, or any power seating system controllers you may have”. I am now very careful to make sure my chair is turned OFF when I have to gab.

    Any jamming devices could easily cause my chair to go nuts if the planets align just so, depending on how strong they were. Cell phones today are less than 1 watt, how strong would a jamming signal be?

    Also, what if I (or anyone else that needed help) couldn’t get it? It ha happened before that I’d be driving down the sidewalk tilted back, a few degrees away from hitting my chair’s drive inhibit point. I hit a steep hill or curb cut, the inhibit kicks in, and my chair loses 80% of its power at the worst time, on a steep incline. Thankfully, that only happened once. So far. And the brakes do lock if I turn the chair off. But I had to call for a nearby friend to come push my chair out, as I couldn’t do it.

    Also, another thought – Can you imagine people demanding compensation from these outages, or more lawsuits from it? I can. Sad fact of living in the USA.

    Leave cell phone jamming alone. Build Faraday cages into the walls of wherever you need to keep signals out of, such as prisons, and leave it at that.

  25. 4Real says:

    A Guy in Philly does this on City Buses and I applaud him. People have no manners when they are on the phone yelling, cursing and talking about stupid stuff. If I had a blocker I would use it when someone is being stupid on a cell phone.

  26. history_theatrestudent says:

    A few problems I see with considering selectively jaming cellphone signals. Who and what criteria would be used to determine if an area should be jammed? While looting is a type of flash mob that wants to be destroyed the all out prevention of flash mobs to time things such as “dancing in the mall” may go to far. While they may seem silly, there is an artistic value to them and thus first amendment considerations to be given. Even more if mass texting is used during protesting to help send messages to protesters about agenda, occurring situations, and other useful information that develops. Finally, from my understanding when a signal is jam the signal that counteracts it has to be more powerful than the signal being jammed. I don’t see how well controlled jammed areas could be established under that context. A movie theatre owner may have an understandable desire to jam signals in their building but doing so may deny service to the bookstore next door. The thing that is often missed in this country when personal freedoms are discussed, is that most actions have consequences not just for the individual but other individuals. The right for someone to swing their fist ends at my nose.

  27. The Black Bird says:

    There is one thing I haven’t seen mentioned here. Does anyone really believe the powers that be are not going to use jamming against us just because we, the people, tell them we don’t want it? I would hope the people here are not that naive.

    I’d be willing to bet the proverbial house and car that the government already has in place the ability to shut down any and all of the services we depend on. I’d also be willing to bet they will use that ability the moment they feel too much heat from the us. If they suspect a revolt coming then it’s goodbye to those services.

    • Kuri says:

      Same reason I would prefer research into EMP devices never happen. Nothing to stop them form hiding said devices on power poles and shielding their own tech

    • CharlesFarley says:

      Actually the ability to curtail cell phone calls at the tower was implemented after 9-11. With the overload that occurred in Manhattan, there was an inability for critical calls to get through. There now exists the ability to boot everyone off a cell and only allow certain callers access.

      • Kuri says:

        We had a similar problem during a power outage in my state. Thing is I’m sure a lot of those so called emergencies were people missing American Idol or something.

  28. Ablinkin says:

    Cell phone jammers are easily shipped into the US. They cover just about any cell phone band, GPS, and the 2.4Ghz wifi frequencies. All in one box with several antennas. Plus they’re super cheap. Just don’t get caught with one.

  29. MECmouse says:

    *Are there situations where the risk of interrupting wireless service will always outweigh the benefits?

    See next paragraph!! Yes, when I can’t get cell service in my house AT ALL and therefore if something goes wrong have to go outside to call 9-1-1?!

    It’s been fixed for my brand of phone but not my husbands!

  30. daynight says:

    There is an implantable device to deliver necessary medication to patients. This has a cell connection so that the doctors can modify the delivery rate external to the body including adjusting dosages for emergency medical situations. Now cut the cell connections and use a land line to call the coroner.

  31. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    What did we ever do with out cell phones. Maybe it’s a good idea to bring payphones…those were always fun to identify what the smell was, or the mystery substance you just got all over ear….those were the days.