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.