IT Confidential: Cell Phones As Talismans And Terrorists Tools - InformationWeek
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8/11/2006
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John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Cell Phones As Talismans And Terrorists Tools

I'd like to take that cell phone and jam it, but the FCC won't let me

I'm not a cell phone person. I own one--correction, my company owns it and lets me use it. I bring it with me most places, somewhat reluctantly.

For some people, though, cell phones are more than communication devices. They're magic talismans that confer on users special powers, such as invisibility or the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. I know this because of the people who stand next to me in bookstores talking loudly and obliviously into their cell phones, or those I see engaged in animated cell phone conversations while driving, despite laws against it in many communities and repeated warnings of its hazards.

I blame the hard-hearted officials at the Federal Communications Commission. And Howard Melamed understands. "They made Howard Stern cry," he says, by way of analogy.

Melamed is president of CellAntenna, a Coral Springs, Fla., company that markets wireless technology such as repeaters that boost radio frequency signals. CellAntenna also markets a product called the CJAM 100 Portable Personal Cellular Jammer, "a cell phone size portable cellular jamming device designed to defeat cellular communication within a small area," according to the company's Web site.

Bingo! It's the perfect device to bring bookstore talkers back to earth. But CellAntenna displays this disclaimer: "This product is being sold and marketed only to [the] United States government and its agencies, or for export to foreign government organizations. CellAntenna does not sell or market any of its jamming products for use by private companies or individuals."

That's because jamming cell phone signals is outlawed by the FCC, as per the Communications Act of 1934. "[It] is unlawful for any person to willfully or maliciously interfere with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the U.S. Government," according to an FCC notice last year in response to "multiple inquiries concerning the sale and use of transmitters designed to prevent, jam, or interfere with the operation of cellular and personal communications service (PCS) telephones. ..."

Melamed sued the FCC last April to have that portion of the act declared unconstitutional and a violation of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. He's not after cell phone-talking drivers; he's after terrorists. Melamed says he receives daily inquiries from local and state law enforcement agencies about purchasing his cell phone jammers, which include models much more powerful than the CJAM 100. The main reason: preventing cell phones from detonating bombs. "In 1934, there was no such thing as al-Qaida," Melamed says. Cell phones are increasingly important tools of the trade for modern-day terrorists and criminals, he points out, and local law enforcement is hamstrung by the outdated FCC regulation: "Even your local bomb squad isn't allowed to jam signals."

Melamed admits to a vested interest in his battle with the feds. However, he's not on my side when it comes to personal cell phone zapping; he says he only wants to sell to cops and state troopers.

So, there may be magic in cell phones after all: black magic.

Magic to me is an industry tip. Send it to jsoat@cmp.com, or phone 516-562-5326 (sorry, no cell phone number).

"The News Show" has special powers, such as subliminal messaging. You won't realize it, but watch anyway, at TheNewsShow.tv, every business day at noon EDT.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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