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May 4, 2019

Helping Combat Contraband Phones .

Helping Combat Contraband Phones


CTIA Sr Director Patrick Donovan
Patrick Donovan
Senior Director, Regulatory Affairs

Last week, CTIA and the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) released a report detailing the work of the Contraband Phone Task Force.

Over the past year, the Task Force has worked collaboratively to consider ways to combat contraband devices in correctional facilities while protecting legitimate wireless consumers.

The report summarizes the Task Force’s efforts to date, and we believe there are three key takeaways that can help inform our future work:

Bringing together key stakeholders is the right approach

In February 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai convened a diverse group of stakeholders—state corrections officials, solutions providers, public safety experts, the wireless industry, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP)—to address how best to leverage technological solutions to combat contraband devices in correctional facilities.

The meeting with Chairman Pai was instrumental in bringing together this group to help address contraband phones. Following the meeting, CTIA launched the Task Force, alongside ASCA and BOP. The Task Force is comprised of representatives from CTIA, wireless carriers, and corrections officials.

Since then, these diverse representatives have forged a strong working relationship over the course of regular face-to-face meetings, and technical and legal work on shared priorities.

For example, corrections officials sought a better understanding of the various Contraband Interdiction System (CIS) technologies, and so industry task force members retained the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation (VT-ARC) to conduct a Testbed to assess CIS technologies.  Although the testing was originally slated for 12-16 months, at the behest of corrections officials, VT-ARC hired additional staff to expedite the process and cut the timeline in half.

Task force members have also worked together to tackle legal issues to better combat contraband devices.

CIS technologies and a path forward

The Task Force opened its doors to participation to a wide range of CIS technologies, and three solutions providers — two managed access system (MAS) providers and one jamming solution provider —submitted their systems for evaluation in the Testbed.

MAS technologies capture calls from within a prison facility enabling corrections officials to prevent calls from inmates, while allowing legitimate calls, including 9-1-1 calls, to proceed.  On the other hand, jamming solutions work by blocking signals from cellular networks, entirely preventing any communication.

The Testbed produced detailed insights into the performance of the three solutions as well as recommendations that can be used by corrections officials considering different technologies.

After reviewing the results, the Task Force identified a “MAS-evolved approach,” which could leverage collaboration between MAS vendors and wireless providers, as a potential path forward.  We’re optimistic that this kind of hybrid solution could make MAS installations less costly and improve the ability to locate contraband devices in correctional facilities.

Cutting red tape for law enforcement

In parallel with the Testbed activity, Task Force members also made significant progress on legal and administrative measures to combat contraband device use.

The use of court orders direct wireless providers to discontinue service to identified contraband devices. This process is familiar to law enforcement and wireless carriers, ensures a high degree of accuracy in the list of contraband devices identified, helps enforce criminal laws relating to contraband phone use, and protects lawful users of wireless service.

That’s why CTIA developed a model court order template that combines speed, scalability, and flexibility, and leverages correctional facilities’ existing interdiction efforts. Several states are now using court orders to direct wireless providers to disable service, in certain cases up to hundreds of devices at once.  Task Force members also worked to incorporate contraband devices into industry’s Stolen Phone Database, so a device will be disabled on multiple networks.

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As interdiction technology solutions continue to emerge, and as corrections officials’ needs evolve, all parties will need to work cooperatively to assess both the effectiveness of new technologies and their impact on legitimate users.

CTIA looks forward to continued collaboration with all stakeholders to develop approaches that effectively disable service to contraband devices, while at the same time protecting lawful users’ interests.

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