MOBILE PHONE JAMMERS ACA Report

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1 MOBILE PHONE JAMMERS ACA Report July 2003 Page 1

2 INTRODUCTION Following recent publicity surrounding the use of mobile phones in a NSW prison, the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has further investigated the legal, social and technical issues associated with the use of mobile phone jammers. The ACA understands the concerns raised by the NSW Department of Corrective Services and counterparts in other States and Territories and recognises that the use of mobile phones in prisons is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. However, it needs to be recognised that the ACA s role in considering the problems caused by mobile phones in prisons is limited to its responsibilities for radiocommunications and telecommunications regulation. The ACA believes that a wider consideration of options, outside of the ACA s responsibilities, is more likely to provide a solution. The ACA interprets the word jamming to mean the deliberate transmission of interfering signals to disrupt the normal operation of mobile phones. THE ACA s ROLE As a government regulator of radiocommunications and telecommunications in Australia, the ACA is responsible for managing the radiofrequency spectrum to provide access for all forms of radiocommunications, including those used to deliver mobile phone services. These responsibilities include provisions designed to minimise interference to radiocommunications. The ACA is also responsible for regulatory arrangements to limit public exposure to the potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). THE ACA s DECLARATION PROHIBITING MOBILE PHONE JAMMERS In 1999 the ACA declared mobile phone jammers, in certain frequency bands, to be prohibited devices under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act). The prohibition makes it an offence to operate or supply, or possess for the purpose of operation or supply, such a device. The ACA s decision to make the declaration (see Attachment A) was made after public consultation. The reasons for the prohibition included: mobile phone jammers cause deliberate interference to licensed services and may cause interference to other services operating in adjacent spectrum bands. All mobile phones being used within a radius of up to four kilometres from the jamming device could be jammed. Concern that radiation levels of high-powered devices may result in human exposure to levels of EMR that exceed the maximum permitted under Page 2

3 Australian health exposure standards. This has implications for public health and safety, especially in confined areas. In making the declaration, the ACA was also concerned about the substantial social costs that could arise if mobile phone jammers were allowed to proliferate. Jamming would be likely, among other things, to substantially interfere with, or disrupt or disturb, public mobile phone services and have serious adverse consequences for public mobile phone users by jeopardising the quality and extent of carrier services, preventing access to emergency services and causing inconvenience to or loss of business for mobile phone users. The ACA declaration describes the prohibited devices as a device designed to operate within the frequency bands MHz or MHz and to interfere with radiocommunications or disrupt or disturb radiocommunications. Under the Act, the ACA can take action, including prosecuting any person operating or supplying a jammer, or possessing a jammer for the purpose of operation or supply, that is likely to affect these frequency bands. Penalties include up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to $165,000. The present declaration does not cover GSM 1800 frequencies or new 3G frequencies. The ACA is preparing to amend the current declaration to include these frequencies. There will be a public consultation process associated with the proposed amendments. The ACA s creation of a prohibition declaration for mobile phone jammers is consistent with the position of a number of other countries (see Attachment B). MOBILE PHONE JAMMER INTERFERENCE Mobile phone jammers are designed to deliberately interfere with licensed services operated by mobile carriers. They may also interfere with other services in the same bands and adjacent bands. Jammers are available for all radiofrequency bands used by mobile phones in Australia. The potential for interference to other radiocommunications services in these bands is difficult to quantify because it depends on the design of the jammer and on the radiocommunications service type, operating frequency and location. Available jammers include wide bandwidth devices capable of simultaneously covering all frequencies in a band. In addition, some are also capable of causing interference in bands which are harmonics of their operating frequencies. OTHER SERVICES LIKELY TO BE AFFECTED BY JAMMERS Examples of the types of radiocommunications services operating in bands near those used by mobile phones and potentially affected by mobile phone jammers are: trunked land mobile systems; Page 3

4 fixed point-to-point links which carry anything from data to multi-channel voice communications; sound outside broadcast and studio-to-transmitter links; cordless telephones; and the large number of devices authorised to operate under ACA class licences. These comprise low power devices which would be susceptible to interference from radiofrequency emissions from jammers, for example garage door openers and wireless LANs. There is also potential for jamming to interfere with the provision of standard telephone services under the Universal Service Obligation if, for example, a standard telephone service in the vicinity of a prison was being provided by way of CDMA wireless loop technology as Telstra is currently doing in the Extended Zones. SAFETY OF LIFE ISSUES If a prison were to use a mobile phone jamming device, the ACA believes it would be difficult, if not impossible, to limit the effect of the jamming to within the prison s walls. Radiofrequency transmissions diminish in energy gradually as they travel from a transmitter. They do not stop unless blocked by an electromagnetic shield. Typical building walls and enclosures will weaken the signal but do not act as a solid shield. Although some jamming devices claim to be able to limit the coverage area or strength of the jamming signal, given the nature of radiofrequency propagation the ACA is not confident that jamming could be contained and prevented from spilling over beyond the area intended to be jammed. The potential for jamming effects to extend beyond the intended area creates a very real risk that any use of mobile phone jamming devices in a specific location, including a prison, will unintentionally affect legitimate mobile phone users outside, but close to, those locations. This would be of significant concern to carriers, carriage service providers, and end-users who may not be aware which locations are using jamming devices or the extent or effect beyond the intended areas. Legitimate mobile phone users are entitled to use their mobile phones when they are within the coverage area of their carriage service provider, without deliberate interference by a third party. Of greater concern is the potential for jamming spill-over to create a serious and otherwise avoidable risk to human life in that legitimate mobile phone users could be prevented from accessing the emergency call service, via either of the emergency service numbers 000 or 112, or calls to other emergency organisations (such as poison information centres and other medical services) or to the normal phone numbers for police, fire and ambulance. Mobile phones are increasingly being used to request emergency assistance from the police, fire or ambulance services in life-threatening or time-critical situations. During , 29 per cent (or 1,128,339) of the 3,953,564 genuine calls to emergency call service originated from mobile phones. As many prisons are located in close proximity to populated areas, major roads and highways, there is a very real risk that legitimate users could be prevented from accessing help in an emergency with serious consequences. Page 4

5 There is some evidence of a potential for mobile phone jammers to cause mobile phones to lock up and to remain so after leaving the jammed area until the phone is reset (eg by turning it off and on again). The user may be unaware that this has occurred and of the need to reset the phone. The ACA is also concerned that jamming might compromise the health and safety of prison staff, and any medical staff or ambulance officers who may be called to prisons, and may have to use a mobile phone while they are within prison grounds. ALTERNATIVES TO JAMMING In 2002 a working group under the ACA s Law Enforcement Advisory Committee (LEAC) was convened to identify alternatives to the jamming of mobile phones within prisons. The working group comprised representatives from various state prisons and carriers and identified both technical and operational/procedural alternatives. Technical alternatives Handset disablers Handset disablers are designed to prevent call attempts from being authorised by detecting the presence of a handset and signalling an instruction to the base station to disallow the call attempt. Also available are intelligent beacon disablers that act as a beacon to instruct handsets within its vicinity to disable their ringing function or discontinue operation. However, this technique requires new intelligent handsets with special receivers for the beacon signals and is therefore not a solution for those handsets already in existence. Micro-cells A micro-cell is essentially a scaled down version of a mobile phone base station designed to supplement coverage in areas of high traffic density. (A pico-cell is smaller again.) A micro-cell (or pico-cell) could be installed in or around a prison either on a permanent or temporary basis. As that micro-cell would offer the strongest signal to any mobile phones operating within the prison, the micro-cell would effectively carry all traffic originating from, or terminating in, the prison confines. This differs from the existing arrangements in that any prison within a carrier s coverage area probably receive signal from a number of base stations (i.e. macrocells) which also serve legitimate users in the surrounding areas. Corralling all traffic through a single micro-cell in this way presents options to address the use of mobile phones in prisons. Carriers could identify those mobile phones that only ever use the prison micro-cell to make or receive calls and do not appear elsewhere in the network, as other mobile phones typically would. Steps could then be taken under existing legislative arrangements to gather intelligence through analysis of the call records or interception of the communications, or to disable specific handsets through either SIM-blocking or IMEI-blocking. Page 5

6 However, micro-cells are quite expensive estimated to cost in excess of $150,000 each and would be expected to require funding by correctional services. 1 Costs could be minimised to some extent by, perhaps, deploying micro-cells that all carriers could share, thereby avoiding the need for each carrier to install its own micro-cell. Further, portable cells-on-wheels could be used under temporary or ad hoc arrangements to avoid the need for every prison to be fitted with its own micro -cell. Nevertheless, the associated costs would remain high. Faraday cages A Faraday cage is a wire mesh enclosure that provides a shield to radio waves. The application of the Faraday cage principle within prisons would block the transmission of mobile phone signals to or from a mobile handset within the cage. Although the retrospective creation of Faraday cages within prisons would be resource intensive, LEAC regarded it as appropriate to be taken into account in the design and construction of new prisons. Operational solutions The LEAC working group also identified a number of activities that correctional services could undertake to target problem areas cost effectively and without amendment to legislation. These principally included: improved searching at the point of entry to prevent mobile phones or their components being smuggled into prisons, similar to other contraband items; and the use of fixed and/or mobile electronic detection devices that can detect when a mobile phone is in operation or in standby mode (and could then be used in conjunction with devices that locate the origin of the signal). If mobile phones are being used to conduct criminal activities, existing legislative arrangements already provide the opportunity for intelligence gathering through analysis of call records or the interception of communications. Further, specific mobile phones could be disabled remotely by carriers through SIM-blocking or IMEIblocking. Legislative solutions The LEAC working group also considered it important that appropriate legislation is in place to support any efforts to prevent mobile phones being used within prisons. This included legislation to prohibit the carriage of mobile phones or mobile phone components into prisons (as has been adopted in the ACT, Qld and WA) and appropriate penalties for offenders. 1 Section 314 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 provides that a carrier or carriage service provider that is required (under section 313) to provide assistance to officers and authorities of the Commonwealth and of the states and territories must provide that assistance on the basis that they neither profit from, nor bear the costs of, providing that assistance. That is, carriers and carriage service providers are entitled to recover the costs of providing assistance. Page 6

7 LEGAL ISSUES IN RELATION TO A TRIAL OF MOBILE JAMMERS Much of the attention has focused on the operation of the ACA s prohibition declaration prohibiting the possession, use and supply of mobile phone jammers. It should be noted that even if Corrective Services were exempted from the operation of the prohibition declaration, and there is doubt that this could be done legally at present, it is an offence to operate these devices as they are designed to deliberately interfere with radiocommunications which deliver telecommunications services. It is an offence to interfere with radiocommunications under section 197 of the Act and it is an offence to interfere with a carriage service supplied by a carrier under subsection 85ZG(2) of the Crimes Act Under the present legislation, which is designed to protect both radiocommunications and telecommunications it is doubtful whether a trial of mobile phone jammers could be conducted legally. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION While the ACA recognises and is sympathetic to the difficulties facing Corrective Services in relation to use of mobile phones in prisons, the ACA considers that the disadvantages of allowing the use of mobile phone jammers appear to outweigh the advantages. The legal issues surrounding the use of mobile phone jammers are complex. There is significant doubt as to whether mobile phone jammers could be used without a change to existing legislation. The ACA does not support the introduction of mobile phone jammers because they: interfere with licensed radiocommunications; disrupt telecommunications networks; and raise serious safety of life issues. Therefore, the ACA recommends that the available alternatives to mobile phone jammers described above be further explored by Corrective Services in consultation with carriers. Page 7

8 ATTACHMENT A Legislative Arrangements for the Declaration Prohibiting Mobile Phone Jammers The power to declare the operation or supply, or possession for the purposes of operation or supply, of radiocommunications devices to be prohibited stems from Part 4.1, Division 8 of the Act. Section 189 of the Act makes it an offence to operate or supply, or possess for the purposes of operation or supply, a prohibited device, without reasonable excuse. Section 189 also details the penalties that apply if a person is found guilty: if the offender is an individual imprisonment for two years; or otherwise 1,500 penalty units (currently $165,000). Section 190 of the Act describes the manner in which the ACA may declare a device to be prohibited and the kinds of devices that may be declared to be prohibited. Such devices must be devices that: are designed to have an adverse effect on radiocommunications or would be likely substantially to: - interfere with radiocommunications; or - disrupt or disturb radiocommunications in any other way; or are radiocommunications transmitters or radiocommunications receivers that would be reasonably likely to have an adverse effect on the health or safety of persons who: - operate the devices; or - work on the devices; or - use services supplied by means of the devices; or - are reasonably likely to be affected by the operation of the devices. A declaration is a disallowable instrument for the purposes of section 46A of the Acts Interpretation Act A declaration is taken to be a statutory rule within the meaning of the Statutory Rules Publication Act Section 191 of the Act requires the ACA to undertake public consultation in a specified manner before making a declaration that a device is prohibited. The ACA, in a notice published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette must: describe the device; and specify the reasons why the ACA proposes to make a declaration; and invite interested persons to make representations about the proposed declaration within a period not less than one month after the date of publication of the notice; and specify the address to which representations may be sent. The ACA must give due consideration to any representations made by a person within the period specified in the notice. The ACA is not required to undertake a public Page 8

9 consultation process if it is satisfied that making the declaration is a matter of urgency. Page 9

10 ATTACHMENT B Policies of other countries Other countries are dealing with the issue of whether mobile phone jamming should be allowed. There have been a number of positions taken by these countries. United Kingdom (UK): It is illegal to install or use these devices in the UK. Use of these devices constitutes an offence contrary to sections 1 (unlicensed use) and 13 (deliberate interference) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act Outlets marketing the device are prosecuted for inciting the public to commit an offence. Ireland: It is illegal to use mobile phone jammers in Ireland and prosecutions in relation to jammers have occurred. United States of America (USA): It is illegal to install or use these devices as FCC Part 15(5b) Rule precludes the use of intentional interferers. Europe: It is illegal under European Directive 99/05/CE to sell or use mobile phone jammers. However, there is anecdotal evidence that Spanish authorities are not prosecuting misuse once these devices arrive at the final user. Also France has passed regulations that will allow the use of a type of mobile phone jammers in theatres, temples and other places. Before permitting installation, it will be verified that the influence of the system is null outside the place protected, health-related radiation limits are fulfilled, and the system allows specific calls such as emergencies, police, and fire department. Both the administration and mobile telephony operators will be involved in the verification of these conditions, and their permission will be required for installation. Misuse will be considered a major offence. The French authorities consider that these conditions guarantee the rights of mobile operators, since they must grant cell phone installation. In this scenario, cell phone jammers would become similar to base stations, although, in this case, they would filter communications instead of establishing them. The French authorities consider that those selective devices would fulfil Directive 99/05/CE under adequate license terms subject to the conditions of each member state. The ACA understanding of this arrangement is that it does not constitute jamming, but is a micro-cell arrangement. Its success may be due to cooperation between carriers and relevant authorities. Canada: After a period of public consultation Industry Canada announced on 14 June 2002 in Gazette Notice No. DGTP that it would not authorise the use of mobile phone jammers. It stated that this decision was consistent with the Departments mandate to manage the radiofrequency spectrum. With respect to the use of jamming devices in connection with federal security and law enforcement functions for national security purposes, an alternative authorisation process is under review. Jamaica: Mobile phone jammers are used in prisons. There is a media report which suggests that legitimate services outside the prison boundaries are affected. Page 10

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