- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday he would consider going against federal law to hold a cell-phone-jamming demonstration at a Maryland prison to help stop illegal cell-phone use by prison inmates, but he hopes that won’t be necessary.

A spokesman for the governor said Mr. O’Malley is planning to ask the Federal Communications Commission for permission to hold a demonstration. But the FCC has said the Communications Act of 1934 doesn’t allow state and local agencies to use the technology, which prevents cell-tower transmissions from reaching phones.

When asked whether he would consider holding a demonstration without federal permission, Mr. O’Malley said “yes,” but he added: “We hope not to have to go in that direction.”

Maryland officials are especially sensitive to the problem of contraband phones in prison.

Earlier this month, a Baltimore drug dealer who used a cell phone to plan the killing of a witness from the city jail was sentenced to life without parole. Patrick A. Byers Jr. was convicted of murdering Carl S. Lackl Jr., who had identified Byers as the gunman in a previous killing. Mr. Lackl, a 38-year-old single father, was slain in a drive-by shooting outside his home in July 2007, a week before Byers was scheduled for trial.

The governor noted his administration is exploring the possibility of seeking intervention by the Justice Department to have a demonstration. As a third alternative, the Democratic governor is hoping legislation in Congress that is co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, will change the law to make it possible for states to use the technology.

“I think this issue makes so much sense to the public at large that the FCC will not be able to resist the calls of governors throughout the country who will start asking for this permission, and I believe that that’s also why ultimately the legislation is going to be successful as it moves through Congress,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Matt Nodine, acting chief of staff for the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said the request will be reviewed when it is received.

Maryland would not be the first state to hold a demonstration without federal permission. South Carolina ran a demonstration in November without federal approval.

Texas, however, planned a demonstration and then called it off because of the federal restriction. The FCC has denied two recent requests, from the District and Louisiana, for test jamming sessions.

Maryland corrections officials confiscated 947 cell phones in 2008 by using specially trained dogs and other security measures. That’s a 71 percent increase in confiscations compared with 2006, according to the O’Malley administration.

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