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FCC weighs in on cellphone jammers: They're illegal and dangerous

March 06, 2012|By Deborah Netburn

A national obsession with cellphone jamming was ignited last week when a Philadelphia bus rider identified only as "Eric" admitted to carrying a cellphone jammer and using it to interfere with the cellphone signals of his fellow bus riders if he felt they were being too disruptive.

"A lot of people are extremely loud, no sense of just privacy or anything," he told NBC10, a local news station that broke the story. "When it becomes a bother, that’s when I screw on the antenna and flip the switch."

The story of Eric and his vigilante cellphone jamming habits quickly went viral as Americans frustrated with hearing half of a conversation in the grocery store, at the playground, in the street gleefully passed the story around on social media.

Media outlets capitalized on the story -- finding other commuters who use cellphone jammers, and explaining how the device works.

The interest in cellphone jamming has grown so acute that on Tuesday, the FCC felt compelled to weigh in and remind Americans that no matter how much they may want to purchase a cellphone jammer for themselves, they definitely should not because (A) it is dangerous, (B) it is illegal and (C) they will have to pay a fine up to $112,500 if they get caught using one.

"We caution consumers that it is against the law to use a cell or GPS jammer or any other type of device that blocks, jams or interferes with authorized communications, as well as to import advertise, sell, or ship such a device," Michelle Ellison, chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau, said in a statement.

The FCC points out that jammers do more than just weed out noisy or annoying conversations and disable unwanted GPS tracking. They can also prevent 911 and other emergency phone calls from getting through.

And no matter how frustrated you are with that guy fighting with his credit card company on your train, you don't want to be responsible for interfering with an emergency phone call.

The release outlines two examples of how private use of cellphone jammers might interfere with public safety. In one example, a high school teacher uses a jammer in his classroom to keep kids from being distracted by their phones. But, unknown to the teacher, the jammer also inhibits teachers, students and staff throughout the school from using their mobile phones, potentially jeopardizing student and teacher safety.

In another example, a certified public accountant sets up a small jammer in his office so that he won't be disturbed during tax season, but the jammer also interferes with the communications of a nearby fire department.

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