Always Connected Criminals

I’ve written on the problem of contraband cellphones in the past and how bad of a growing concern (and public safety threat) this issue is to the respective corrections officials dealing with it. My recently, Richard Stiennon of ThreatChaos forwarded me an article Dawn.com who reports on a lot of news in Pakistan of how Omar Saeed Sheikh, a militant being held in Pakistan for, according to the article, his arrest in Feb 2002 for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, threatened the President and Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan…using his cellphone in a Hyderabad prison!

The article titled, Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India, Pakistan to brink of war, states “‘Omar Saeed Sheikh was the hoax caller. It was he who threatened the civilian and military leaderships of Pakistan over telephone. And he did so from inside Hyderabad jail,’ investigators said. The controversy came to light after Dawn broke the story, exactly one year ago, that a hoax caller claiming to be then Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee was making threatening calls to President Zardari.”

“The very next morning, Nov 29, Hyderabad jail was raided by intelligence agencies and over a dozen SIMs were recovered along with two mobile sets. Majid Siddiqui, the jail superintendent, was suspended. ‘I don’t know much but it is true that some mobile SIMs and mobile sets were recovered from Omar Saeed Sheikh when he was in Hyderabad jail.”

It’s been said before that criminals would gladly conduct their illicit enterprises from within prisons using cellphones because it’s the safest place to be. This certainly rings true of the case of Omar Saeed Sheikh whose cellphone had a SIM card from a UK wireless operator so looked like a UK cellular device roaming in Hyderabad. And over a dozen more SIMs were confiscated during a raid to obtain the contraband. This is only the scratch on the scratch of the tip of the iceberg. This problem will continue to grow without an effective technical solution to detect, track, and monitor or confiscate the contraband devices in all prisons worldwide. These Always Connected criminals will simply continue to easily obtain the same great devices and services that we as productive consumers enjoy and take for granted every day.

To Jam or Not To Jam

Today I commented on TechDirt’s article by Carlo Longino on cellphone jamming and how “no one should profit from criminals”, namely the carriers. There are not too many ways that the carriers would be able to discriminate from all the calls coming from within a correctional institution which ones are known legitimate and which ones are known or suspected illegitimate. The problem is contraband cellphones is an incredibly hard problem to solve throughout the entire world! My own company, AirPatrol Corp, is involved with channel partners in the US, Canada, South America, Western Europe, and part of AsiaPac on sales opportunities to correctional institutions for a geo-fencing system to detect and locate cellphones throughout a prison with the intention of then dispatching correctional officers to the specific locations where violations are occurring.

My specific comment on TechDirt involved an ideal solution of detect, locate, then intelligently jamming (if it’s possible) the violating cellular devices. Indiscriminate jamming won’t solve anything as it’s reactive, short term, and harmful to a huge array of authorized cellphone users both within the prison facility and possibly outside. It’s no wonder the FCC has not come up with a response to the varying pleas from correctional institutions to legalize it, or at least provide a process by which they can apply jamming on a needed basis. BTW, if a process is required to get permission to apply jamming for each occurrence determined to be warranted, then it’s already too late!

This is certainly not an easy problem to solve, but I strongly believe that a proactive sensing, location, and focused cell signal “quieting” system which can also record forensic information for prosecutorial purposes would be preferred over nondiscriminate jamming.