Signal jammers in jails to curb cellphone use

PHOTO: DUDU ZITHA
PHOTO: DUDU ZITHA

Prisons bosses are resorting to signal jamming devices to stop inmates from using cellphones in prisons.

A Correctional Services Department document seen by Sowetan says it is in talks with the Independent Communications Authority of SA to "explore various technical and legal solutions including, but not limited to, cellphone jamming".

The department also wants to spread the installation of cellphone detection systems in various prisons to assist officials in the identification and removal of unauthorised communication devices.

Currently, cellphone detectors are being installed at 39 prisons while another 14 body scanners will be placed at seven prisons to assist officials in stopping cellphone smuggling.

According to Icasa's Guide to Frequency Spectrum Use, the use of any jamming device including mobile phone jamming is prohibited in South Africa for security considerations and efficient electronic communications.

But after a signal jamming device was used during President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address earlier this year, Icasa said the use of jamming devices by any entity other than national security cluster departments is not authorised and or permitted. At the time, the authority said national security cluster departments may, where supported by relevant security legislation, deploy the use of jammers in relation to, among others, state security functions.

Several media companies and the SA National Editors Forum have appealed the decision of the Western Cape High Court dismissing their application to have the use of the signal jamming device in parliament declared unlawful. Prisoners at Pollsmoor in Cape Town recently caused a stir when they set up their own Facebook page and started posting photographs of themselves in their orange prison clothing.

In June, Free State Judge-President Mahube Molemela compiled a report after conducting a judicial inspection at Zonderwater Prison in Cullinan, Tshwane.

Molemela found that the prison had a serious problem of smuggling of drugs and cellphones, mainly due to the shortage of personnel and overcrowding in the communal cells.

But the judge also found that because the prison had adult basic education and training learners and 11 University of SA students, it should allow prisoners to have laptops in their cells.

"There is no reason why students should not be allowed laptops in their cells. A laptop that has no internet access cannot pose any threat to the facility's security," Molemela said.

South African courts have previously ruled in favour of prisoners who are students at higher education institutions wanting access to the internet for their studies but this must be monitored and used "strictly for studying".

Icasa's Paseka Maleka did not respond to requests for comment made on Thursday. Correctional Services' Logan Maistry said he needed more time to respond.

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