Spencer S. Hsu
Sunday, Feb 1, 2009
As President Obama’s motorcade rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, federal authorities deployed a closely held law enforcement tool: equipment that can jam cellphones and other wireless devices to foil remote-controlled bombs, sources said.
It is an increasingly common technology, with federal agencies expanding its use as state and local agencies are pushing for permission to do the same. Police and others say it could stop terrorists from coordinating during an attack, prevent suspects from erasing evidence on wireless devices, simplify arrests and keep inmates from using contraband phones.
But jamming remains strictly illegal for state and local agencies. Federal officials barely acknowledge that they use it inside the United States, and the few federal agencies that can jam signals usually must seek a legal waiver first.
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The quest to expand the technology has invigorated a debate about how widely jamming should be allowed and whether its value as a common crime-fighting strategy outweighs its downsides, including restricting the constant access to the airwaves that Americans have come to expect.
“Jamming is a blunt instrument,” said Joe Farren, vice president of government affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. He and others pointed out that when authorities disable wireless service, whether during a terrorist attack or inside a prison, that action can also stop the calls that could help in an emergency. During November’s raids in Mumbai, for example, citizens relied on cellphones to direct police to the assailants.
This article was posted: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 5:01 am