Thursday morning’s FCC meeting promises to be dramatic: It will feature testimony by an ex-prison guard who survived after being shot six times at his South Carolina home as the result of a hit ordered on him hit by an inmate using a contraband cellphone.
Capt. Robert Johnson (ret.) of the South Carolina Department of Corrections has become an advocate for putting the clamps on contraband cellphones since that 2010 incident, and he has an ally in new FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. A year ago Pai and then South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley co-authored an op-ed piece in USA Today titled “Cellphones are too dangerous for prison.”
There’s a push by some to implement technological methods, such as airwave jammers, to neutralize contraband cellphones, but the FCC has restrictions on its authority at the state and local levels. Some states, such as California, are putting their own plans in place — in California’s case it is in partnership with a provider of prison cellphone services that will provide all sorts of surveillance, scanning and decryption technology to stymie inmates from using wireless networks for illegal purposes.
The FCC earlier this month released a fact sheet on Promoting Technological Solutions to Combat Contraband Wireless Device Use in Correctional Facilities. The FCC cites major concerns over the use of contraband cellphones for everything from orchestrating hits to running drug operations to conducting phone scams.
“Some correctional facilities have implemented radio-based technologies to detect and block the use of contraband wireless devices located inside their facilities. These technologies, called Contraband Interdiction Systems (CISs), require FCC authorization. While there is no single solution for every situation, this Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would introduce a range of potential solutions to address the needs of correctional facilities nationwide,” the FCC states.
Wireless carriers in the past have rejected FCC proposals to jam cellphones in prisons, calling such actions unlawful and possibly harmful to those with legitimate access to phones in prison. Not to mention, the carriers could lose business.