Preventing inmates who are detained at Her Majesty's pleasure from making mobile calls has been a harder task than might be imagined. Preventing mobile phones entering prisons was and is a long running battle of ingenuity vis-a-vis surveillance and detection. Counter measures to foil those who circumvent the original surveillance and detection have been used and proprosed but can fall at the final hurdle due to breach of one Act of legislation or another or for technical reasons.
The idea of creating RF jamming fields that basically pollute the electromagnetic environment to prevent mobile calls going outward can have consequences beyond the target field and therefore impacts at different levels e.g.
i) the same pollution (jamming) also prevents mobile calls coming inward
ii) can prevents legitimate mobile calls within the demesne (field of test area)
iii) as the pollution may not be confined by material objects within the demesne the pollution can spill over into a land parcel outside of a prison and prevent emergency calls etc
The use of nano-, pico-, micro-cell etc jammers are prohibited under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. In plain english that means whether it is of a base station arrangement or handheld device. Research also identifies that allowing the use of a mobile phone in prison to make incoming/outgoing calls allows some inmates to continue to run their crime businesses. Assuming the authorities provided an inhouse base station to provide coverage this may be fraught with consequences way beyond harvesting of personal information and possible subsequence breaches of the Data Protection Act vis-a-vis The Human Rights Act. Are these two Acts opposed to one another or do they walk hand-in-hand? The assumption that certain Rights from prisoners are waived, that legislative power has absolutely no legal impact at all on those who are the called party and whom have lost no 'legal' liberties at all. So there are always diffculties, which the authorities are pressed to meet challenges of any statutory tests within the legalisation and further pressed by decisions in case law. And if that is not enough, the authorities shall not create Guidelines that supercede or attempt to supercede Statutory Law or that produce extra statutory directions or activity.
To add a further ingredient into the mix and blend it with the above issues is the requirement to have a strategy that takes account when a mobile phone is switched ON what are the mobile phone's capabilities?
- communicating by bluetooth
- communicating by infrared
- communicating byWiFi
- communicating by NFC/RFID
- capability to operate in pilot mode
- ability to make voice recordings
- ability to take photographs
- ability to record information on to high capacity storage mini smart cards
- ability to interconnect to a computer
- ability to run applications on handsets to generate morse code
- ability to make sound that can be detected by listening devices
- and the list goes on
In the long running battle of ingenuity versus surveillance and detection a new product has recently been launched called Cell Hound from ITT Exelis. The way it works is that its sensors scan the frequencies used by cell phones as well as many other wireless products. Detects and locates all active cell phones located within or near a facility. The system utilizes an array of sensors that listen for cell phone activity. When a cellular call is detected, information about the call is transmitted via a standard Ethernet LAN to the central server. The data is processed in real-time by the software, which then displays the location of the cell phone onto a computer monitor (http://www.exelisinc.com/solutions/Pages/Cell-Hound.aspx).
Photo courtesy of ITT Exelis
From the technical information about this system it appears not to use jamming signals or generate false base station techniques. The technical information doesn't state that personal information is being harvested, so it will be interesting to see how many boxes it will tick.
Research I undertook for this discussion can be found in vast quantity of information available from various sources, which I have simplified for ease of reading consumption. What this research hasn't discussed is how the mobile phones or component parts thereof are getting into prisons; the combination of technology facilities available to prisoners within prisons; or surveillance and detection systems actually being used in prisons. From the material I read and cross-referenced with known materials to read what the research suggests to me is that it is possible to generate a quantifiable range of possibilities that need to be considered to create a surveillance and detection strategy from which it is possible to create a Check List against which a product can be assessed. It is fully accepted and declared that such a Check List should be an evolving list to take account of changing developments.