Monday, June 1, 2009

Cell phones in schools - jamming the signal?

Articles like this one remind me that the topic of cellular phone usage in schools is a controversial one. If you've been awake for the past few years, you recognize that this is a growing problem and isn't going away. There are relevant debates around the educational use of pieces like texting, the various policies in different districts concerning cell phone use and the perception that these newer phone devices might actually function effectively as a component in a 1:1 initiative.

Putting those topics aside for a moment, I'll point out that multiple districts have asked me over the years about simply 'jamming the signal' to prevent unauthorized use of these devices on school grounds. They're referring to the purchase of electronics that would be placed in a school to intentionally interfere with the signal.

Be aware of what the law says about this matter! To put it pretty plainly, everything I've read says that intentionally jamming a cellular signal is illegal. This topic makes for some interesting reading and, as the links below indicate, I don't think anyone has been prosecuted for violating this law. That doesn't change the fact, though, that this is against the law. The text is a quick read, so I'll just include it:
The operation of transmitters designed to jam or block wireless communications is a violation of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended ("Act"). See 47 U.S.C. Sections 301, 302a, 333. The Act prohibits any person from willfully or maliciously interfering with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the U.S. government. 47 U.S.C. Section 333. The manufacture, importation, sale or offer for sale, including advertising, of devices designed to block or jam wireless transmissions is prohibited. 47 U.S.C. Section 302a(b). Parties in violation of these provisions may be subject to the penalties set out in 47 U.S.C. Sections 501-510. Fines for a first offense can range as high as $11,000 for each violation or imprisonment for up to one year, and the device used may also be seized and forfeited to the U.S. government.

I've had at least one person speculate that schools, hospitals, etc are public entities that are given waivers and can legally purchase these devices. I don't agree with that and would say that, if it were legal, why would you see articles like this that detail the struggles that prisons are having with cell signal issues? In addition, gear sales sites go to great lengths to point out that only a small group of federal agencies have the right to legally purchase such technology in the United States.

Interesting topic, but I thought I'd take a few minutes to point out that I haven't found a single thing that would allow a school district to purchase electronics to jam cell phone signals without violating federal law.

Spy gear site w/ interesting test re: legality of 'jammers'

HowStuffWorks article


John McMillen said...

If you call the FCC they tell you plainly that schools are not exempt to this law. It is illegal to jame cell signals in schools.

Jody said...

Thanks for the feedback, John. Everything I've read certainly points to only a very few federal exceptions at the highest levels, but I hadn't actually called the FCC myself. Good to know. JR

bsweasy said...

Legal or not, is this really a good solution anyway? Isn't it tantamount to finding an ant in the basement and deciding that the proper course of action is to burn the whole house down? I carry a BUSINESS cell phone into buildings, and the whole purpose of having this cell phone would be ruined if I couldn't take calls. Teachers use their personal cell phones to make non-work related calls during the school day. In an emergency situation (Think Columbine), who wants to explain to the press why victims inside couldn't phone the police to provide invaluable information until the fool running the jamming equipment thought to turn it off? No offense to whoever is looking into this, but even if it were legal it sounds like a dumb idea.

BTW, love the blog, Jody. I "discovered" it about a month ago and it's already been useful

Jody said...

Thanks for the kind words, Bryan. I completely agree that this isn't the best solution, but I could see how an administrator gets frustrated with regular discipline issues for users having phones out when they shouldn't.

I didn't blog about it, but I learned while reading that there are types of nanotechnology paint being developed that are designed to make cell signals difficult to come by. Apparently, these are not illegal. There are some interesting articles out there about the desire to block signals in theaters and music halls, as well as prisons.

Glad the blog's been helpful and I'll try to keep it interesting. Shoot me an email if you have a proposed topic. Take care!

bontragerteacher said...

If cell signals can't be legally blocked, and kids are getting too good at hiding cell phones while texting for me to catch, then what can I do? I'm losing a battle in my classroom. I'm working hard to teach kids, and they are all working harder to get away with breaking the "No cell phone use in class" rule. I've tried for years to catch kids texting, and I'm not very successful because they can hide it so well. The administration tries to enforce the rule as best they can, but they are met with the same problem that I am. The kids are just too good. A signal jammer would solve this problem completely. What else can we do?

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Ima Guy C said...

I invest about 1/4 of my instructional teaching learning time emforcing/fighting school policy. Some of my students are using the cell phones to harress / bully other kids, some have use to schedule illicit activities (including dealing in illegal drugs or scheduling gang related activities) and some are completely addicted to social media/interaction.

I have had three parental calls to students via the cell phone in four years which were at least somewhat legitimate (most of the real calls come through the office because these types of situations involve some form of adminstrative tracking or support). Most of the time, parental interaction with the kids has been counterproductive and/or disruptive.

In my mind, there has to be a legal option to provide support and protection to these kids; we have lock downs, we have fire and store protection; yet we permit kids to sink or swim in a digitized world 24/7. When the tax payers discover that they are wasting about $2500 a kid year each of educational time (most likely more) because of the cell phone in the classroom problem; perhaps something might be done.

allie m. saye said...

No matter how vigilant we are, those ☺&*^☺ kids manage to use their phones in school on a regular basis. It is simply too distracting to be watching them for that phone and yet also trying to teach, especially when class sizes are expanding so we can cut jobs and save money. There are phones in each classroom should someone need to contact a student or if there is an emergency. When we teachers need to use our mobiles, we overwhelmingly agree that we could simply go outside and do so. As could the businessmen, etc., who would, for whatever reason, be visiting our public schools...