Congress calls on FCC to silence cellphones in prisonsOctober 12, 2017 8:36pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — More than 50 members of Congress are giving federal regulators a deadline for resolving how to prevent prisoners from using contraband cellphones behind bars.

In a letter dated October 4 and obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, 48 House members and four U.S. senators wrote to the Federal Communications Commission, calling the security threat posed by contraband cellphones "an issue of critical importance."

Inmates use the phones, the members of Congress wrote, to continue the violent crimes and gang activity that landed them behind bars in the first place. The signees, which include both of South Carolina's U.S. senators and all of its Republican House members, asked the FCC to set up a meeting with state prison officials, cellphone companies and the FBI within 120 days, and to report back to Congress on their progress. FCC officials said Thursday they had received the letter and are reviewing it.

The letter is the latest direct call for action on the phones — thrown over fences, smuggled by employees, even delivered by drone — which prison directors call the biggest threat to prison security. A decades-old law says federal officials can grant permission to jam the public airwaves only to federal agencies, not state or local ones. Telecommunications companies are opposed, saying jamming cell signals could set a bad precedent and interfere with legal cell users nearby.

Earlier this year, South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling, a leading voice on the need to eradicate the phones from prisons, wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, beseeching the top prosecutor for help pursuing FCC permission to jam cell signals.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also lobbied, writing Sessions in August a memo on the dangers of prison cellphones and thanking him for any help he could provide. Assistant Attorney General Beth Williams also weighed in, telling FCC officials that addressing the security threat posed "should be a chief priority" of both the FCC and Justice, which oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons.

In their letter, the members of Congress note that some on the Hill would like to fix the issue by congressional mandate, but they would prefer a more "collaborative approach."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has signaled willingness to work on the issue. In March, after Pai took testimony from Stirling and a former South Carolina corrections officer who was nearly killed in an assassination attempt orchestrated by an inmate using an illegal phone, commissioners voted 3-0 to approve rules to streamline the process for using technology to detect and block contraband phones in prisons and jails across the country.

___

Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

Page 1 of 1

More Stories Like This

In this undated photo former coal mining executive David Zatezalo, nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as the next head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, sits on his porch at his Wheeling, W.Va. home. Zatezalo currently is going through the nomination process before the U.S. Senate. (John McCabe/The Intelligencer via AP)
Mine safety nomination follows history as coal executive
This undated aerial photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a herd of caribou on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. Congress is a step closer to opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. A budget measure approved by the Republican-controlled Senate allows Congress to pursue legislation allowing oil and gas exploration in the remote refuge on a majority vote. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)
Arctic refuge drilling closer as Senate moves to open site
FILE - In this April 2014 file image frame grab from video, provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a test at the FAAs technical center in Atlantic City, N.J. The U.S. government is urging that large, personal electronic devices like laptops be banned from airline checked luggage because of the potential for a catastrophic fire. (FAA via AP, File)
Questions and answers on proposed ban on laptops in luggage
AP FACT CHECK: Trump on military death, and taxesAP FACT CHECK: A fraught debate over families of the fallen joins more familiar subjects where Trump misstates the record
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis walks up stairs as he arrives on Capitol Hill for a meeting with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to discuss the ambush that killed four soldiers on an operation in the African nation of Niger, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Latest: White House defends Kelly in fight over war dead
Monsanto sues Arkansas board for banning disputed herbicideMonsanto sues Arkansas regulators over decision to ban its version of an herbicide that has drawn complaints from farmers in several states
AdChoices

Related Searches

Related Searches

AdChoices