Cell jamming a simple call for justice

A case where the law needs to get with the times

The boss and I were talking about this one just Friday: How the urge to commit violence can become overwhelming when one is subjected to loud cell phone users who are oblivious to the fact that the air space around us is a shared environment. He recounted a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode where Larry David, not being capable of violence, counters a dining-solo cell-phone blabbermouth in a restaurant by conducting his own high-volume soliloquy ... to which the other chattering chap takes ironic offense.

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Of course, violence and public spectacle are poor countermeasures against cell-phone rudeness when technology provides a much more effective and stealthy alternative. According to this morning's New York Times:

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States - prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.

The problem with this approach, as many of you no doubt know, is that cell-phoning jamming is a teensy-weensy bit against the law. (So are violence and public spectacles, in many cases, I might point out.)

The issue has been brewing for years, as one maker of jamming equipment told me back in 2001.

"Our position is that the proprietor of an enclosed space should have the right to control disturbances within that space. That could be a fight in a bar, that could be somebody yelling at his kid on a cell phone, or whatever."

Tell it to the judge.

Now it should go without saying that there are competing interests at work here and neither the jamming-equipment maker, Larry David, nor I would advocate a universal right to willy-nilly block cell signals.

It's just that the weighing of interests has been so one-sided on this matter. And you can blame the carriers.

"It's counterintuitive that when the demand is clear and strong from wireless consumers for improved cell coverage, that these kinds of devices are finding a market," a Verizon spokesman complained to the Times, proving once again that tone-deafness is a requirement of the job in that company's public relations department.

Bottom line: If vigilante cell jamming is a bad idea, somebody needs to come up with a better one ... before somebody gets hurt.

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