Telcos back mobile jamming in gaols

Trial begins to move after years on ice

A proposed trial of mobile phone jammers in Lithgow Prison which gathered ground last week had stagnated in government offices for years.

Telstra first proposed the trial "several years ago" after providing government with data from a previous successful test of jamming technology at Parramatta gaol.

"We have been have been waiting to hear back ever since [issuing the trial data]," a Telstra spokesperson told Computerworld, adding it can run the trial immediately following approval.

The communications watchdog has put the plan into action with a call for public comment and is set to engage all telecommunications carriers including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. The carriers have independently confirmed their intent on participating in the trial if requested and will back government legislation on mobile jamming in gaols.

The trial must successfully restrict blocking technology to a defined field to be successful. Telstra said the efficiency of the jamming technology is well established, however it is understood a previous trial of the technology failed to limit the jamming field.

"The real concern to Telstra is that the technology doesn't affect residents," the spokesman said.

Australia could become one of about 10 countries to legalise mobile phone jamming in prisons if the trial is successful.

Phone jamming has been subject to years of heated debate between privacy advocates and political parties, while state governments including Victoria have attempted to introduce the technology into their prisons.

While laws introduced in 1999 banning the use of jammers in Australia have remained unchanged amid government review in 2003, such laws in other countries vary wildly . The UK and Japan, for example, allow anyone to own a jammer as long as they do not use it. Canada, France, Italy, Norway and others allow the police or prison officials to use jammers.

Chinese and Indian schools use jammers to stop cheaters, Mexico allows their use in churches and hospitals and Pakistan uses the technology in banks and libraries.

It is used in countries including the US to thwart mobile phone-triggered bomb attacks against government leaders. When US President Obama walked down Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration, all mobile phones were jammed in the area.

The country's Safe Prisons Communications Bill of 2009 is under consideration which if passed it will introduce a waiver that will allow wireless jammers to be installed in prisons.

Submissions on mobile phone jamming are open for three months and can be sent to the Australian Communications and Media Authority via email LANDS @ acma.gov.au before April 30.

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