- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski have asked federal officials for permission to hold a cell-phone-jamming demonstration at a Maryland prison, saying unauthorized cell-phone use by inmates is posing a serious safety problem.

Mr. O’Malley and Miss Mikulski, both Democrats, sent a letter Monday to the National Telecommunications Information Administration, asking that they be allowed to hold a 30-minute demonstration of the technology. The letter cited recent incidents in which inmates were able to use cell phones to engage in criminal activities - including arranging contract killings - from their prison cells.

The federal Communications Act of 1934 bans states from jamming signals.

“There is an urgent need to combat the use of illegal cell phones and other wireless devices in our country’s prisons,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, Maryland and other states currently are unable to deploy electronic technologies that may provide more reliable protection against unauthorized inmate communications.”

Last month, Carl Lackl, a witness in a July 2007 murder trial, was fatally shot outside his house eight days before he was scheduled to testify. Investigators later found that the defendant, Patrick Byers, had ordered the killing using a cell phone from inside the Baltimore City Detention Center.

In April, members of the Maryland chapter of the prison gang Black Guerilla Family - including four correctional officers and a former employee of a prison kitchen - were indicted by federal authorities after they were accused of conducting business on conference calls with prisons across the state using smuggled cell phones.

Miss Mikulski is sponsoring legislation in Congress that would allow states to petition the Federal Communications Commission to use jamming technologies in prisons where illegal cell-phone use is a problem.

Mr. O’Malley said recently that a formal request with the FCC to hold the demonstration is in the works, but he said the state may also seek intervention from the Justice Department in order to hold a demonstration.

The FCC has rejected similar requests recently from the District and Louisiana to test-jamming technologies.

Mr. O’Malley has not ruled out holding a demonstration without federal permission, but has said that he would rather see federal legislation improved.

“Whatever antiquated, archaic rules are in existence, whether it’s the 1916 radio treaty or the 1934 whatever, need to be updated,” Mr. O’Malley said last month.

If Maryland were to go on with the demonstration without federal approval, it would not be the first time a state has done so. South Carolina held a jamming demonstration in November without federal permission.

Mr. O’Malley and Miss Mikulski said the demonstration would take place at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, which houses 189 federal inmates. To prevent interruption of emergency or civilian wireless services, the test will be conducted by a vendor “that has demonstrated ability to implement a demonstration of this type without affecting services outside the test area.”

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