THE SAFE PRISONS COMMUNICATIONS ACT FAILS TO ADDRESS PRISON COMMUNICATIONS
Cell phones smuggled into federal and state prisons are considered a top security threat to public safety. Contraband cell phones, often smuggled in by corrupt prison guards and family visitors, are used by criminals for activities ranging from the innocuous, such as text messaging their families, to the more sinister, including ordering assassination hits on witnesses. Prison officials argue that cell phone jamming devices, which operate by producing a signal on the same spectrum band that cancels or "jams" cell phone signals, are needed to halt the flow of cellular communications in and out of prisons. These jamming devices, however, have long been deemed illegal by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 333. The proposed Sale Prisons Communications Act of 2009, recently passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate, would create an exception for prisons to petition the FCC for permission to install cell phone jamming devices. This potential exception raises several concerns, however. These jamming devices may create interference spillover beyond the boundaries of prisons, disrupting legitimate cell phone communication. Furthermore, private companies, schools and even movie theaters are interested in gaining access to this technology to jam legal, but potentially annoying, cell phone communication. An exception for prisons might lead to an undesirable proliferation of jamming. Additionally, many cell phones are being smuggled in by desperate families who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant collect call rates traditionally used by most prisons. Dealing just with illicit cell phones in prisons obscures the important social and rehabilitative interests in facilitating prisoner contact with families and loved ones.
DEVELOPMENT IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY LAW
At first glance, implementation of jamming devices seems compelling for...