Lithgow prison phone jammer trial progresses

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Lithgow prison phone jammer trial progresses

Communications regulator exploring interference and health concerns.

Lithgow Correctional Centre's proposed use of mobile phone jammers has moved to a new stage with the communications regulator set to quiz telcos on whether to allow a full-blown trial to go ahead.

iTnews reported in June last year that the NSW Department of Corrective Services had sought a trial of the technology in an effort to stamp out illegal phone use by prisoners.

The trial at the maximum security facility requires an exemption from jammer prohibition arrangements put in place by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

If successful, the trial could pave the way for full deployment of the jammer technology at the prison.

It could also provide valuable data for consideration of future deployment in other locations, according to the regulator.

But ACMA said it was concerned at the impact of "continued and continuous use of jammers at particular locations."

The regulator said that a technical and management framework would need to be created "to mitigate the potential for harmful interference to radiocommunications (including mobile phone networks) outside of the trial facility.

"That will require significant engagement with the telecommunications industry and particularly with mobile phone carriers," ACMA said in a discussion paper.

"Deployment of mobile phone jammers in correctional facilities presents a complex technical challenge.

"Even if the deployment of devices was limited to high security facilities, those facilities may be in locations where the radiofrequency spectrum is used to provide legitimate communications to nearby residential areas or publicly accessible areas such as roads.

"Consideration must also be given to electromagnetic emission (EME) standards to ensure that the continuous operation of the devices does not have an adverse effect on the health of staff and inmates."

The last time the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) considered the use of jammers in prisons was in 2003.

The regulator has previously granted an exemption to prohibition arrangements for the purposes of jammer testing.

Telstra were permitted to test the devices in a shielded room on behalf of the Australian Federal Police in 2006.

That test was intended to help determine the feasibility of deploying mobile phone jammers in correctional facilities, ACMA said.

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