29 January 2010
ACMA seeks views on the regulation of mobile phone jammers
The Australian Communications and Media Authority is well advanced in its review of the regulation of mobile phone jammers in Australia. As part of that review, the ACMA is also seeking views on a proposal to trial mobile phone jammers at the Lithgow Correctional Centre in NSW.
The ACMA has released a public discussion paper reviewing the scope and application of the Mobile Phone Jammer Prohibition and the regulation of mobile phone jammers in general. The paper also provides background on the trial of mobile phone jammers at the Lithgow Correctional Centre that has been proposed by the NSW Government.
’It is often not appreciated, but there are important issues involved in weighing up the benefits and disadvantages of allowing jamming of mobile telephone networks,’ said Chris Chapman, Chairman of the ACMA. ‘There are obvious circumstances where there would be clear public benefit in inhibiting the use of mobile phones to prevent criminal and potentially life-threatening activities. At the same time, the use of jammers may have implications for the integrity of mobile networks, including the use of Triple Zero and associated safety-of-life issues.’
‘In light of the substantial issues raised in the discussion paper, the period of consultation will be three months. It is important to provide sufficient time for all interested parties to consider and respond to the issues raised in the discussion paper,’ Mr Chapman said.
‘Wide consultation with all stakeholders is appropriate before the ACMA concludes the regulatory arrangements needed to allow the use of mobile phone jammers in correctional facilities.’
The review is a ‘first principles’ examination of the need for regulation of mobile phone jammers to safeguard access to legal radiocommunications and telecommunications, in light of a range of emerging uses of mobile phone jammers in the public interest by responsible bodies..
Copies of the discussion paper are available on the ACMA website.
Submissions should be sent to LANDS@acma.gov.au by Friday 30 April 2010.
Media contact: Christine Donnelly, Acting Media Manager, on (02) 9334 7857.
Mobile phone jammers are radiocommunications transmitters designed to deliberately interfere with licensed services operated by mobile carriers. A mobile phone works by communicating with its service network via a base station. A mobile phone jammer typically prevents the mobile phone from receiving signals from base stations. As a result, the mobile phone does not attempt to transmit to a base station, even though it may be within range. Jammers effectively disable mobile phones.
The Notification that the Australian Communications and Media Authority Prohibits the Operation or Supply, or Possession for the Purpose of Operation or Supply, of Specified Devices (Mobile Phone Jammer Prohibition) prohibits the operation or supply, or possession for the purpose of operation or supply, of a device designed to operate within the frequency bands 870-960 MHz or 825-845 MHz and to interfere with radiocommunications or disrupt or disturb radiocommunications.
The use, possession and operation of mobile phone jammers was prohibited in 1999 by the Australian Communications Authority on the basis that there was no legitimate purpose for mobile phone jammers.
In 2003 the ACA (one of the ACMA’s predecessor bodies) re-examined the issue and re-affirmed that it could not support the use of mobile phone jammers because they:
- interfere with licensed radiocommunications;
- disrupt telecommunications networks; and
- raise serious safety of life issues.
Since then a number of activities have been identified where the proponents believe that the use of mobile phone jammers is justified. For example, the correctional services community believes that mobile phone jammers can play a role in improving prison security and preventing or reducing illegal communications by inmates.
The use of mobile phone jammers in prisons is currently prohibited in Australia although there is growing worldwide pressure to permit some use of jammers in prisons. In New Zealand, mobile phone jammers have been deployed in conjunction with detection devices in several prisons, with further roll-out planned.
In the UK, detection equipment is also being rolled out. Work is underway to trial mobile phone signal blocking technology, and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will look to roll out blockers more widely as funding becomes available.
In the US, mobile phone jammers are not currently used in prisons. However, the Safe Prisons Communications Bill of 2009 is under consideration. If this bill is passed it will introduce a waiver provision to the Communications Act 1934. Where a waiver is granted (after FCC consideration of whether installation of jammers will cause interference to emergency or public safety communications outside the prison) wireless jammers may be installed. Conditions include the use of FCC approved devices, capable of directionalised operation, and operating at lowest feasible transmission power, plus system shutdown and investigation where written notice of interference caused is received from a mobile phone service provider, The proposed legislation also requires the FCC to establish criteria for certification for the manufacture, sale, importation, and interstate shipment of such devices.
In Australia, the Corrective Services Ministers’ Conference (CSMC) brings together all State, Territory and New Zealand Ministers responsible for correctional services. At its meeting in June 2008, the CSMC endorsed an action plan to enable the use of mobile phone jammers in Australian prisons. The first step in the action plan involved the correctional services community providing information to ACMA to enable it to assess their operational requirements for the deployment of jammers in prisons. The ACMA received a submission about the use of mobile phone jammers in prisons from the correctional services community last March.
A field trial of mobile phone jamming at the Lithgow Correctional Centre in NSW has been proposed. New South Wales Department of Corrective Services is in the process of providing the technical information required for the ACMA to consider the regulatory arrangements needed to facilitate the trial, including an Exemption Determination to permit the possession and operation of the (normally prohibited) mobile phone jammers to be used in the trial.
Key stakeholders of the review will include mobile phone carriers, emergency services operators, relevant government agencies and correctional services representatives.