Canada considers licensing cellphone jammers

The Canadian government has kicked off a 90-day public comment period on whether to license technology aimed at preventing the inappropriate use of cell phones in places such as restaurants, theatres and concert halls.

Except for Israel, most countries including the U.S. have blanket prohibitions against the use of any technology that jams or interferes with cell phone signals.

Industry Canada wants to obtain “the widest public views possible on the use of cell phone silencers,” according to David Warnes, senior adviser for spectrum policy. Warnes said Ottawa-based Industry Canada wants public input to help it make a decision on “whether and under what conditions license applications for these devices should be considered.”

Canada will decide before the end of the year whether to change its current licensing policy, which prohibits the use of jamming technology except by public safety, law enforcement and other government agencies, Warnes said.

Marc Choma, a spokesperson for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, in Ottawa, said he believes any technology that can block cell phone use in Canada should remain illegal, primarily because it could interfere with public safety communications.

“The public-safety aspect is our greatest concern, since a lot of fire and police [departments] use the same frequencies as the public [cell] phone system,” he said.

Choma said he believes that social pressure will eventually curb offensive use of cell phones in inappropriate places. “As time progresses, society will dictate acceptable behaviour,” he said.

The Radio Advisory Board of Canada (RABC), an industry association of equipment manufacturers and service providers based in Ottawa, said Industry Canada and the makers of cell phone silencers face potential “legal repercussions” if the technology is deployed.

In a position paper released in November, the Mobile and Personnel Communications Committee of the RABC said, in part, “Denial of service of (especially emergency service) may have legal repercussions on the service providers, Industry Canada, the jam technology provider and the public venue operator (concert hall etc.) where some perceived harm or loss has occurred, particularly in situations where lives could have been or were lost.”

Elliott Hamilton, an analyst at Strategis Group in Washington, said that in his view, the use of cell phone jammers “is a simple issue. Business owners should be able to do what they want to do on their premises. I don’t see anything wrong [with jammers] as long as their signal does not bleed into the public space.”

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