Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons: Possible Wireless Technology Solutions

October 26, 2011

Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons: Possible Wireless Technology Solutions (PDF)
Source: National Telecommunications and Information Administration

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) submits this report in response to a direction from Congress in December 2009 that NTIA, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), develop a plan to investigate and evaluate wireless jamming, detection, and other technologies that might be used to prevent contraband cell phone use by prison inmates. NTIA has identified and evaluated several technology solutions for this report that can be used in a prison environment, including jamming, managed access, and detection techniques. In the preparation of this report, NTIA sought input from the FCC, NIJ, and BOP regarding their efforts to combat contraband cell phone use.

The Administration believes that contraband cell phone use by prison inmates to carry out criminal enterprises is intolerable and demands an effective solution. Prison officials should have access to technology to disrupt prison cell phone use in a manner that protects nearby public safety and Federal Government spectrum users from harmful disruption of vital services, and preserves the rights of law-abiding citizens to enjoy the benefits of the public airwaves without interference.

To obtain public input on these issues to assist in developing this report, NTIA issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) in May 2010 soliciting comment on a series of detailed questions to help identify, clarify, and characterize these solutions. NTIA received comments from forty-six sources. In addition to providing input regarding the three technologies identified in the NOI, commenters identified additional technologies for consideration.

Working in coordination with its Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, NTIA performed both laboratory and field measurements on a selected jammer. NTIA subsequently analyzed the results of those measurements to determine, as far as possible, the potential impact of that jammer on other authorized radio operations.

This report discusses the characteristics and capabilities of the various technologies and considers the potential interference effects that they may have on authorized radio services, including commercial wireless, public safety communications, and 9-1-1 calls. Three possible wireless technology solutions were identified in the NOI that commenters further expounded upon: jamming, managed access, and detection.

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