Cell Phone Jamming: Should It Be Legal or Not?We have all been in our favorite restaurant, at church, or maybe in the theater when someone’s cellphone has gone off. And whether the offending ringtone came from the Wizard of Oz, the Simpsons, or some other familiar source that might otherwise be entertaining and amusing, it was distracting, annoying, and even somewhat embarrassing in this context. To make things worse, the person receiving the call at this inappropriate time decided to go ahead and answer it without hesitation and proceeded to carry on a loud conversation with no regards to the others around them.

Once, while riding a metro train in Washington, DC, my fellow passengers and I were subjected to a man’s loud, argumentative conversation on his cellphone that included what can only be described as “too much information.” As he kept raising his voice, it was impossible for anyone else on the train to communicate with one another or even hear destination announcements. Sadly, I’m sure this is an experience that’s all too common in public places around the world — and one that’s familiar to all of us. I (and, I’m sure, you) have often wondered if there’s any reasonable way to silence these inconsiderate cellphone users in a manner that’s not equally disruptive to others (like a well-placed pop in the chops might be).

It does seem that some people have resorted to what is called jamming. Jamming is a process by which an electronic device is employed to stop the transmission of cellphone signals. For some, this may seem like a violation of someone’s civil rights, but when does one person’s disrespect of others become a violation of their rights? If you feel that you have a right to talk to your date in a restaurant or to enjoy a train ride by reading your newspaper, you may wish to write your congressman/congresswoman and ask them to look into these electronic devices.

We do know that these devices are readily available from such places as eBay or other online websites with a statement or two that alleges that the devices are legal to use. On the other hand, the legality issue may not even be mentioned and it then becomes the buyer’s responsibility to determine whether the devices are legal or not.

On the FCC website, the federal agency describes in detail what cellphone jamming devices are and why they are not legal for use in the US. The FCC states in no uncertain terms that jamming devices are not allowed and proceeds to explain that it is illegal to block any type of signal to any of the following devices:

  • Cellphones
  • Police radar
  • Wi-Fi
  • GPS

The issue has become such a hot button subject that the FCC is requesting public comment on whether any transmissions should be jammed, including cellphone or Wi-Fi signals. You can read the request for comment on the FCC website. One may recall that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) authorized the use of signal disruption during a protest, which brought the agency under severe criticism. While this is just one example of when jamming came under scrutiny, the importance of public input cannot be overstated. This means that this is your opportunity to respond with your opinion and I would recommend that you take the time to do so.

There are two opinions that side on the negative points of jamming electronic transmissions:

  1. Some feel that it is their ‘inalienable right’ to have coverage 100% of the time, everywhere they go, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They also feel that their loud volume and babbling conversations need to be shared with the world, no matter where they are or who they may offend.
  2. Others have the opinion that jamming a cellphone may prohibit someone from calling 911 in case of an emergency or another problematic situation.

On the other side of the issue is the argument that if people cannot respect their fellow citizens enough to either turn off their phones or, at the least, put them on vibrate, jamming should be allowed. They believe that a vibrating phone would allow the call’s receiver to leave the area or to respond unobtrusively to the person calling them.

Another solution has been offered in a recent article at Underwire that claims to have demonstrated a new technology that causes a disruption in a person’s speech patterns. The device uses what is called Delayed Auditory Feedback — or DAF — to disrupt a person’s normal speech patterns by delaying the feedback they normally receive while speaking. The device, called SpeechJammer, is a prototype and is currently in the testing phase. The only known drawback is that the device must be aimed at the person in need of disruption to work.

Given this information, I believe that while it may be annoying to those of us who are forced to listen to the personal calls of others, resorting to any type of signal jamming is against the law. That means that, until the law is changed, you could be the one prosecuted for trying to enjoy a peaceful evening on the town.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.