December 1, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Company challenges FCC rules on cell phone-jamming gear
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While federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI or the Department of the Treasury are allowed by law to use cell phone-jamming equipment, Lamita said, it makes more sense for local police departments to have access to this equipment because they are often the first agents on the scene during a bust.
"We work as a team with federal officials," he said. "When the FBI plans a bust, they don't show up with a SWAT team of their own. They deputize the local authorities to help them execute the raid. And we're the ones that go in first."
But loosening restrictions on who is able to jam or block cell phone signals could be a slippery slope, considering that commercial entities as well as individuals who find it annoying to listen to people gabbing on their cell phones in public may want to disrupt cell phone signals. For example, movie theaters may want to use the technology to keep people from receiving calls during a film. Restaurants or commuter-train services also may want to limit the use of cell phones.
Melamed said he doesn't expect the FCC to allow just anyone to jam cell phone signals, but to simply allow local law enforcement officials to buy valuable tools for fighting crime.
"We don't want thousands of people running around pressing a button to wipe out cell phone signals," he said. "Local law enforcement is a logical place to begin the discussion of who should have access to this technology. Then we can look at other places where it might make sense to use it in a controlled setting."
Melamed also said that the technology used to jam signals would not interfere with most cell phone subscribers' service, because the signals used to jam the cell phone reception is targeted and localized to affect only a certain area.
The company offers three models of devices used for jamming cell phone signals. The CJAM 100 is a low-power, portable personal jamming device that blocks signals in a 15-meter radius. The CJAM 500 has a range of up to 30 meters. It's intended to block signals within a single room. The CJAM 1000 is a high-powered device that can block up to three microwave frequencies within a half-mile radius.
CellAntenna is not asking for monetary damages in its lawsuit. It simply hopes the court will find the FCC's regulations and the 1934 act unconstitutional.
Still, a judgment in CellAntenna's favor could mean big bucks for the company. CellAntenna already sells its gear to some federal agencies, including the Secret Service. Opening up the sale of its equipment, which goes for about $15,000 apiece, to thousands of local and state agencies across the country would be a boon for business. CellAntenna wouldn't be the only company to benefit. Other large companies including Motorola, Tyco and Honeywell also provide radio frequency-jamming equipment.
The FCC declined to comment on the lawsuit. The agency has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. But a representative confirmed that CellAntenna has never attempted to go through the agency's procedural channels to have its rules on cell phone jamming changed. CellAntenna could have filed a petition for rule-making with the FCC, which would likely have opened the question to the public of whether to sell jamming equipment to local and state agencies. The five commissioners of the FCC would have then voted.
Jeffrey Sarrow, the attorney arguing the case for CellAntenna, said he advised his client to sue the government rather than petition the FCC because he believed it would result in a quicker outcome. That said, the case was originally filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida in April of this year. The judge ruled the case was not in the proper court, and so the case was refiled in the appellate court. The case could take up to a year to be argued and for a decision to be handed down from the appeals court.
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