Company Tackles Contraband Cell Phone Problem

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — CellAntenna Corporation announced that it has filed a petition to have contraband cell phones electronically detected and identified in prisons that are unsubscribed by the cellular carriers.

The petition requests that the FCC define rules for how law enforcement and cellular carriers can help curtail the illegal use of cell phones in prisons by inmates.

The presence of illegal cell phones in prisons has been recognized as a security threat to law enforcement and the general public, as inmates often use them to continue their criminal activities from behind bars.

The infiltration of cell phones has escalated to pandemic proportions, with hundreds of thousands of cell phones found annually in prisons throughout the country.

Although jamming technology would be the most cost-effective way to solve the problem, according to some experts, current laws prevent its deployment. Other methods can be easily defeated and are unaffordable for local and state departments of corrections, say experts.

CellAntenna says it has perfected an affordable and practical technology to handle the problem. CellAntenna’s Guardian Service detects and identifies individual cell phones and the carriers they are attached to in a targeted area and creates a simple list that can be sent to the carriers by the prison authorities.

The carrier has only to unsubscribe the cell phone from their system, rendering the illegal device useless. The petition filed recognizes that carrier cooperation is essential to effectively fight the problem of illegal cell phones found in prisons.

“In our discussions, cellular service providers expressed their desire to help solve the problem of illegal cell phones in the prisons,” stated Howard Melamed, CEO of CellAntenna Corp. “Having the FCC provide the framework, by way of our petition, assists the carriers and law enforcement officers in protecting the public by thwarting the illegal use of cell phones by criminals.”

CellAntenna, in cooperation with Departments of Corrections around the country, has tested the Guardian Service solution, the company says.

CellAntenna is a system integrator that specializes in cell phone control solutions. Its Detection, Managed Access, Guardian Service, and Cell Phone Jamming solutions are used by governments around the world, as well as by the U.S. federal government.

The Government Accountability Office recently said that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has failed to implement an effective evaluation plan for testing contraband cell phone technology in federal prisons.

In a September report, the GAO said that two federal prisons have implemented large-scale, sensor-based cell phone detection systems, but officials from the bureau’s Office of Security Technologies told GAO auditors that the systems have not been evaluated to determine whether widespread adoption would be feasible and effective.

In other instances of contraband cell phone technology testing, prison officials did not inform OST that the systems were being tested, leaving OST officials to hear about it from vendors, GAO auditors said OST officials told them.

OST officials also said test results from different prisons are inconsistent because people with varying skills and knowledge, from computer specialists to correctional officers, conduct the tests.

The bureau says any anti–cell phone technology deployed within prisons cannot interfere with signals outside the secure perimeter of a facility nor can they collect information about end-user device utilization outside the perimeter.

Jamming within the confines of a federal prison, however, is legally permissible so long as the prison has authorization from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

A report released by the NTIA last year said the bureau has generally concluded that existing anti-cell technology solutions have shortcomings, such as not detecting all commercial cellular signals, having a very short detection distance, or being unable to affix the location of an active cell phone due to the amount of signal reflection caused by the large amount of metal inside prisons.

Handheld detection devices suffer from being easy for inmates to outsmart — they simply shut off the phones if they see staff coming with a portable device, the NTIA report says. Existing commercial solutions might also be too sophisticated or expensive for daily operation by nontechnical staff or be impractical to deploy in large facilities with many buildings, the report says.

In response to an NTIA notice of inquiry made in advance of the report, many wireless companies expressed concern over the potential for prison jamming to interfere with communications outside the facilities or to obstruct land mobile radio communications.

Some experts said testing conducted by the NTIA demonstrates that jamming can work without interference or compromising public safety.