Regulator sticks to its guns on mobile jamming ban

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Regulator sticks to its guns on mobile jamming ban

A blow to plans to block signal in NSW prisons.

Australia's communications regulator has proposed a continuation of the ban on technology which jams mobile phone and wireless communications, which could scupper plans by prisons to crack down on the illegal communication of inmates.

In April, the Australian Media and Communications Authority commenced a review of existing mobile phone jamming laws, after the NSW Department of Corrective Services announced its intention to trial jamming technology at Lithgow prison.

Today the authority released a draft declaration, the Radiocommunications Prohibition of PMTS Jamming Devices) Declaration 2010, which proposed to continue banning the jamming devices that interfere with public mobile telecommunications services (PMTS).

The declaration contains an exemption for the operation of the jamming technology on aircraft.

ACMA received 14 submissions for the review including from the Attorney-General's Department, Department of Defence, Department of Justice (Victoria), and NSW Department of Corrective Services / Kordia Solutions.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, Telstra, Singtel Optus and Vodafone Hutchison also made submissions.

In 2003, the previous incarnation of ACMA, the Australian Communications Authority, evaluated whether jamming technology should be allowed in prisons but at the time concluded the "disadvantages of the deployment outweighed the advantages".

However, the issue has raised its head in the last couple of years following incidents of high-risk prisoners possessing mobile phones and also some gangs coordinating criminal activities from jail over mobile networks.

In its submission, the AMTA expressed concerns about the proposed mobile phone jamming trial at Lithgow.

"In relation to the proposed trial at Lithgow, industry is concerned about the process to date," the submission said. "The process and consultation commitments have been vague and it is concerning that the proposal for a trial has progressed so far without consultation with affected stakeholders."

Prison agency urges regulator to reconsider

But according to the NSW Minister for Corrective Services, there remained a very urgent requirement for the trial to go ahead.

Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) is working to address concerns that Lithgow area services could be compromised by a trial of jamming technology, according to a spokesman for the NSW Minister for Corrective Services, Phil Costa.

However, the spokesman said there was no planned start date for 12-month trial, which was first proposed last June.

"CSNSW is in the process of finalising technical details and arrangements for the trial with ACMA and mobile phone carriers.

"CSNSW and its engineers have worked closely together to select equipment that will only jam signals within Lithgow Correctional Centre and is confident that mobile phones outside the prison will not be affected."

He said there is a real need for the technology because prisoners with mobile phones are a threat to the whole community.

"Inmates in possession of mobile phones can contact criminals on the outside or they may contact or threaten their victims.

"Last year an inmate organised a drug distribution network from his gaol cell using a smuggled mobile phone but effectively jamming these phones in correctional centres will wipe this practice out. "

ACMA will receive submissions on the draft declaration until December 20, 2010.

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