TR Daily Contraband Cellphone Task Force Reports Progress
Friday, April 26, 2019

Contraband Cellphone Task Force Reports Progress

A task force studying ways to combat contraband cellphones in correctional facilities reported progress on several fronts today.

The task force submitted a status report to the FCC on its activities and a separate report detailing a technical assessment of various contraband interdiction system (CIS) technologies and making recommendations for best practices.

The task force was launched in the wake of a meeting held in early 2018 with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other agency officials on ways to tackle contraband cellphones (TR Daily, Feb. 7, 2018).

The wireless industry agreed to launch the task force, which has met multiple times. The task force members include representatives from CTIA, the Competitive Carriers Association, the four national wireless carriers, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and corrections officials from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

The national wireless carriers also agreed to fund a test bed. What originally was estimated to be a 12-to-16-month project to test technologies was completed in about eight months, as correctional officials sought solutions more quickly than had originally been projected. Three vendors participated in the test bed, two with a managed access system (MAS) and one with a jamming technology.

In a joint statement today, CTIA and ASCA said, “The wireless industry and corrections officials are committed to combatting the illegal use of contraband cellphones by prison inmates. Last year, the wireless industry and corrections officials formed a Contraband Phone Task Force to examine potential technological, legal, and administrative challenges and solutions to combat contraband devices while accounting for the interests of legitimate wireless users. This report details the task force’s significant efforts to date. We are encouraged by this ongoing collaboration and look forward to continued coordination between industry and corrections officials on this critical issue.”

A redacted version of the task force report, which was submitted to the FCC today along with the CIS test bed technology assessment in GN docket 13-111, said it “provides a summary of the Task Force’s activities to date in the following areas: (1) Coordination and collaboration among wireless service providers and corrections officials to identify contraband phone challenges and potential solutions; (2) Establishment of a Testbed for the technical assessment of Contraband Interdiction System (CIS) technologies … (3) Implementation of state-level court order processes to enable wireless carriers to disable cellular service to contraband devices; (4) Use of the wireless industry’s Stolen Phone Database [SPD] to deny service to contraband phones across multiple cellular networks; and (5) Review of the possibilities and challenges of geofencing capabilities as a contraband interdiction solution (Attachment B to this Report summarizes how geofencing could operate in a correctional facility setting and CTIA’s related views on legal and privacy issues).”

The task force stressed “that this report reflects the beginning of the Task Force’s initiative, not its conclusion. Participating industry representatives and corrections officials will continue to meet and to work collaboratively on solutions to address this critical public safety issue. As interdiction technology solutions continue to emerge, and as corrections officials’ needs and experiences evolve, all parties will need to work cooperatively to assess both the effectiveness of new technologies and their impact on legitimate users. We are committed to doing that.”

The task force also said that this year, it “will continue to maintain and build on the collaborative, multi-faceted efforts that led to the results discussed in this report. The Task Force plans to hold several member meetings in the coming year. Task Force members have identified three substantive areas to address in 2019: (1) exploring technological approaches to improve MAS performance and potentially lower costs, dependent on MAS vendor decisions and feasibility assessments at the carrier level; (2) implementing permanent changes to the SPD to improve its support for contraband interdiction; and (3) expanding the use of court orders to terminate service to contraband phones.”

The technical assessment of different CIS technologies was overseen by the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp.

Charles Clancy, executive director of the Hume Center for National Security and Technology at Virginia Tech and a cybersecurity professor, ran the test bed and formation of recommendations as a consultant for CTIA.

For example, the redacted version of his report details the following MAS best practice recommendations: (1) “[c]ontinual RF planning, testing, and monitoring to ensure control of relative power at correct levels inside and outside the correctional facility” including “[c]ommunication between correctional facility officials, MAS vendors and cellular providers regarding network re-provisioning, inmate activity, and system performance”; (2) “[c]oordination with general public to address inadvertent RF leakage into the community, prevent spectral interference, and address emergency events (e.g., natural disasters, security incidents)”; (3) “[e]ffective control of contraband influx into facilities”; (4) “[a]llow lists to permit authorized communications throughout the facility”; and (5) “[e]mergency call and dialed number handling[.]”

“Laboratory testing of one manufacturer’s jammer (used as a CIS in overseas prisons) indicated strong potential for this system to create substantial aggregate interference to be generated in a practical prison scenario with multiple jammer units. In a practical real-world deployment of jammers with the characteristic that were tested, harmful interference to commercial cellular services outside a prison is very likely, and there is also a significant risk of out of band interference to other RF-dependent services,” according to the report. “Testing additional jamming solutions in both laboratory and field conditions would be needed to more fully assess the likelihood [of] harmful interference.”

The report said that technical best practices for jamming would have to include (1) “[c]areful RF design, planning, and maintenance that ensures emanations from DSS [denial of service system] do not travel beyond the boundaries of facility”; and (2) the creation of “RF ‘safe lanes’ or terrestrial alternatives for corrections officials’ communications/emergency communications[.]” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation

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