The Washington Post

Cell phone jamming raises controversy

A passerby talks on a cell phone in front of the electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. (Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press)

A man in Philadelphia has been making headlines after admitting that he’s been using a cell phone jamming device to block the conversations of his fellow bus riders. The rider, called Eric, has said that he’s “taking the law into my own hands, and quite frankly, I’m proud of it.”

The story, first reported by Philadelphia’s NBC affiliate, has hit a nerve, topping Google’s list of trending topics on Friday.

Forbes’s Meghan Casserly reported that she talked to two other cell phone jammers — one in New York and one in Washington, D.C. — who said that they, too, are proud of what they’re doing. One man told her that he uses his jammer to “cut off a loud talker on the train that’s sitting near me” and has never felt guilty for cutting off conversations.

Jamming cell phone signals, it should be said, is illegal for a host of reasons. The gadgets block incoming and outgoing calls, meaning that an ill-timed jam could limit people’s ability to call emergency services or report crimes.

There’s also the First Amendment issue. San Francisco’s mass transit system’s decision to block cell phone signals as part of an effort to prevent a riot has prompted the Federal Communications Commission to say that it will review “intentional interruptions of wireless service by government authorities.”

But while there’s a lot of backlash against government shutdown of cell networks, jammers such as Eric say that they don’t feel like they’re a threat to public safety. When investigators in Philadelphia asked him if he was concerned about disrupting someone seeking help on the bus, he said it would be a different situation.

“Well, of course if there were such a situation on the bus, I imagine I would be right in the middle of it. And I would imagine that would be a very different situation, of course; I’d imagine I’d be dialing 911 myself," Eric told the television station.

Related stories:

FCC reviews government shutdown of wireless networks

New Japanese ‘gun’ can silence speech

FCC applauds BART’s actions to protect cellphone use in stations

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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