I think we all know the feeeling of being in a public place where someone is yammering away on a cell phone, and all you can think is WOULD YOU SHADDUP. Dennis Nicholl, a 63-year-old accountant in Chicago, certainly felt this way—and resolved to do something about it. Nicholl got his hands on a Chinese-made cell phone jammer and began carrying it on his commute on the Red Line.
What's surprising is how blatant he was about using it. When people would start using their cell phones near him, he'd pull out the device—which is bristling with antennas—and turn it on in plain view, effectively blacking out the entire car. Calls were dropped and no one could send texts. But the jammer obviously doesn't disable cell phone cameras, so observant fellow riders began snapping pictures of Nicholl holding his device.
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The photos circulated on social media, and when police got wind of Nicholl, they sent an undercover cop onto his train to make a phone call near Nicholl. As Nicholl turned the device on and the cop observed his call was dropped, he slapped a pair of cuffs on Nicholl. Cell phone jammers are illegal, and for good reason; imagine if terrorists used such devices after an attack, hampering critical emergency communications.
Train-based cell phone usage can be annoying, but on the roads it can lead to distracted driving accidents. In Florida, where it's not illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving, this worry so consumed a Florida man that he took matters into his own hands. After observing lots of folks driving and chatting during his commute on Interstate 4, Jason R. Humphreys installed a powerful jammer hidden behind the seat of his Toyota Highlander.
So effective was Humphreys' device that service provider Metro PCS reached out to the FCC. They reported that cell phone towers along Interstate 4 were experiencing problems--always during the morning and evening commutes. The pattern pointed to someone operating a mobile jammer, and FCC investigators were able to pinpoint the source of the jamming signals: A blue Toyota Highlander. Humphreys was pulled over and arrested. He admitted to police that he had been operating the jammer for roughly two years.
Last week the FCC put out a press release stating that they're fining Humphreys $48,000. It's not clear how much Nicholl will be fined; Humphreys was arrested back in 2014, so I guess it takes the FCC a bit of time to get their prosecuting ducks in a row. And apparently they've been trying to contact Humphreys for quite some time, but are having no luck. As the press release states,
Enforcement Bureau staff attempted on three occasions to reach Mr. Humphreys by phone – once in June of 2014, and twice in late 2015. Staff spoke to Mr. Humphreys once but was disconnected, and he did not answer staff's call to him immediately thereafter.
Perhaps he's being jammed.
The FCC has also issued a fine of $34.9 million—their largest ever—to Chinese manufacturer C.T.S. Technology Co., which reportedly sells and markets 285 different types of jamming devices. We'll see if they can collect.