Industry Canada proposes jamming cell phones
March 12, 2001 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Industry Canada proposes jamming cell phones in restaurants, theatres, libraries and other public spaces. They're seeking public comment. Got any? While you're thinking, you can read the press release.
posted by argybarg (44 comments total)
While the use of cell phones in public places is irritating, jamming doesn't seem like the right solution. How about trying a simple "no cell phones" sign? It works reasonably well for no smoking.
posted by quirked at 11:44 AM on March 12, 2001

my comment is: this is ridiculous.

i've always been fond of the libertarian-with-a-small-l catchphrase "you can't legislate morality". now add to that "you can't legislate good manners."

besides, it's *fun* to bare your teeth and growl at people who use their cell phones in movie theatres.
posted by Sapphireblue at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2001

Well, I can think of a couple issues where this starts to loose it's luster;

A doctor who has a pager/cell phone for emergencies misses a page for a patient that just had a heart attack. What, doctors can't go out to eat anymore?

My wife is pregnant and I'm at a business lunch, or doing research in the library and she goes into labor.

Just two emergency situations, and of course you can think up as many more as you like.

Everyone has the 'vibrate' option nowadays, anyway - so just mandate that they turn it one instead of the 1812 Overture.

Oh, I just thought of one more - a drug dealer is out to lunch and gets a call for a delivery....

Hey, just kidding.
posted by rich at 11:57 AM on March 12, 2001

"instant lawsuit"
posted by muppetboy at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2001

OK, how about this? If a cellphone rings in the middle of a movie, kick the person out and charge them whatever you have to pay someone to sit in the theater and monitor things plus a fine?

In those two emergencies, the person can choose not to be somewhere that this would be an issue. It's not like every little cafe is going to deploy the tech.

And I don't get the deal about the movies. If a doctor's on call she or he should turn the phone off anyhow - because even answering the phone is inappropriate there. So what's the problem with blocking the signals?

I don't go for this really - I think persuasion is a better tool. Peer pressure. But still - a cell isn't a right, and if a movie theater owner decides that it's in the best interests of customer service to ensure that people aren't disturbed while they watch their movie, who are we to tell them they can't run their business like that?
posted by mikel at 12:33 PM on March 12, 2001

My big problem with them is their annoying, rude ringing. I don't know about you, quirked, but all the movie theatres I go to have a "please turn your pagers/cell phones off" reminder before the movie, but at least 2 manage to go off every movie.

How about a compromise: making them go into vibrate mode? I think I read something about this with Bluetooth technology? I see your points about emergency situations, but I would guess at least 50% of the time the calls are non-emergency. And yes, I realize not all have vibrate mode, but it's a start.
posted by gramcracker at 12:34 PM on March 12, 2001

I say bring it on, though to be perfectly honest I've never been at a movie and heard a cell phone go off.

Regarding doctors: Correct me if I'm wrong, but most emergencies come through on pagers, and I know for a fact that you can get tweaked pagers that will make their way through a ton of interference and other obstacles. When I fixed computers at Pearson Airport (Toronto) we had special pagers that used signals that not only passed through the metres of concrete around us, but didn't get killed by the tons of mechanically-generated static or the radio tower interference.

It would then, theoretically speaking, be possible to generate a signal that blocks cell phones, but not pagers. I don't mind terribly if a page goes off during a movie, it's no more disturbing then the person behind me kicking my seat occasionally.
posted by cCranium at 1:55 PM on March 12, 2001

And yes, I realize not all have vibrate mode, but it's a start.

True. It's amazing to me that vendors manage to build in the Play-Familiar-Classical-Melody-Really-Loud-And-Fast feature, but not vibrate. Or more amazing that every wireless consumer doesn't demand vibrate functionality. I'm all about vibrate, but I guess it's not as cool as making sure everyone in the Tri-State Area knows you have a cell phone and just how much you like Bach keyboard works.
posted by daveadams at 1:58 PM on March 12, 2001

My phone has a simple standard ring tone that is set to ring only once to alert me to a call. If I don't want to be bothered, I turn it off. If I am somewhere that a phone is absolutely inappropriate (movies, plays, concerts) I turn it off. (No vibrate mode.)

But any establishment, especially an eating establishment (where people are having noisy conversations all around, and sound from an inobtrusive ring tone is only a bother if you're oversensitive and nosy) that sought to exert external control over my electronics would not receive my patronage. It is not their right. It is tantamount to slapping a piece of tape on my mouth to make sure that I don't talk too loudly.

Gramcracker, where are you that you're surrounded by such self-important, rude people as a matter of fact at every movie? I'm with cCranium, I have never heard a phone ring at a movie. The only place I've ever experienced a cell ringing unexpectedly and left to go on with a long, stupid ringtone was in a Chinese restaurant. And even there, no one would've paid any attention except that the phone was playing Oops I Did It Again, and the owner looked, saw who was calling, and instead of turning the phone off (she didn't want to talk to them, I suppose) just sat it back down on the table and let it continue to chirp out noise.
posted by Dreama at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2001

I hear cellphones in movies constantly, but I live in a rude city.
Interfering w/ a fone's ringer is no ruder than interupting my movie I paid good $$$ for.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:11 PM on March 12, 2001

I like being Canadian. Everyone wants to legislate good manners up here. It's kind of cute.

I'd really be more interested in seeing something done about reckless life-endangering cellphone-using drivers than the people who annoy me in movies with them.

And besides, I don't consider cellphone rings any more annoying than idiots who provide running commentary throughout the movie, block the screen with their fat, stupid heads, sit behind me and crunch nachos, bring their screaming children, cough, sneeze, snort, heckle the screen, and repeatedly shuffle past me to relieve their tiny, tiny bladders. If they could invent jammers for all forms of annoying behavior, I'd sign up directly.

At least with cellphones I can pretend the call was really important. I can't think of any decent reason why the lady sitting next to me would want to wear so much terrible perfume.
posted by frenetic at 2:54 PM on March 12, 2001

when i go to a movie, i leave my phone in the car, and if i'm in a restaurant, i usually put my phone on silent. (unless it's a fast food restaurant or something.) in class, i do the same. i do this out of courtesy, but i really don't like the fact that the government could *jam* my phone because it pissed other people off.

i smoke outside (at my own house) because it bothers my roommate. it's not like she would kick me out if i smoked inside. i don't need my landlady making it impossible to smoke inside (somehow. theoretically. i'm trying to make a point. :) ) to go along with the wishes of my roommate. the same principle applies with my phone.

anyway, here's another option: my phone's antenna flashes when i get a call, so even if it's on silent i know someone's calling. doesn't bother anyone (the lights are very faint) and let's me know i have a call.

this is all a moot point anyway, because i don't live in canada. heh.
posted by sugarfish at 2:59 PM on March 12, 2001

oops. lets, not let's.
posted by sugarfish at 3:00 PM on March 12, 2001

I'm all for jamming cellphones... Sideways.
posted by websavvy at 3:12 PM on March 12, 2001

A couple of brief notes, as I'm on my way out of the office.

The legislation doesn't mean theatres et al HAVE to use the jamming tech, just that they'll be allowed to if they choose. I imagine most will.

Dreama: Private establishment, you abide by their rules while you're in the establishment. Like you said, if you don't like the rules, you don't go.

frenetic: "kind of cute" I agree. "fat, stupid heads," I disagree. I have a fat stupid head, and I make a concerted effort to be in the theatre in advance and sit in a seat with no one behind me, sitting as straight as I can. If you're the poor sap who sits behind me, well, I'm sorry but that's why I got there first. :-) The fat stupid heads who sit in front of people who don't have fat stupid heads bug me too though, which is why if I don't get to a theatre early I tend to leave cramped from sitting slouched the entire time. Blech. :-)
posted by cCranium at 3:13 PM on March 12, 2001

Good Gravy . . . I'm certainly no fan of cell phones or their implacable invasion into all public areas, but this is just overboard. It wouldn't be the stupidest idea ever dreamed up, but it would be a lot like using a flamethrower to get rid of your termites.

Besides, how long do you think it would take for the tinfoil-hat crowd to start yelling "Cancer!"?

(By the way, the last three movies I've gone to, cell phones have gone off. Of course, this is Seattle, home of Gearheads Who Must Show Off.)
posted by Skot at 3:15 PM on March 12, 2001

i smoke outside because....i don't need my landlady making it impossible to smoke inside....the same principle applies with my phone.

One problem with your analogy is that second-hand cigarette smoke is more than just an annoyance. It's a health-risk to small children, pregnant women, and many individuals with respiratory diseases. I'm not aware of any illness caused or precipitated by annoying cell phone ringers.

But I admire your willingness to compromise your comfort and convenience for that of your neighbors. Good work, and thanks for being one of those nice, thoughtful people who seem to be so rare!
posted by daveadams at 3:52 PM on March 12, 2001

According to this week's Movie Answer Man column, cell phone jamming is already happening in South Africa. I'd be interested to hear what kind of debate that started.
posted by Monk at 4:06 PM on March 12, 2001

Jamming is one of those things which looks good from a distance but has a lot of difficulties (technical difficulties) up close.

Jamming comes in two flavors: active and passive. Active jamming means to transmit garbage on the frequencies of interest. This is usually illegal because it does involve a transmitter on frequencies already licensed to someone else, but of course what's being discussed here is to make it legal.

Passive jamming is completely legal now, and it's extremely effective. The only problem with it is that it has to be implemented at the time a building is built, because it means that the walls, roof AND floor all have to be completely covered with grounded copper mesh (or some other reasonable conductor), turning the entire building into a Faraday cage. Doing this blocks everything, forever. This is possible (though expensive) for movie theaters but it's prohibitively difficult to retrofit. It's not really possible for a restaurant because no-one wants screens on all the windows. So most discussions of jamming refer to active jamming, which is relatively easy to retrofit.

It's not too hard to jam any of the narrow-band cellular technologies (e.g. GSM, AMPS, IS-136 TDMA, IDEN) although there's a nontrivial issue with bleeding into the neighboring streets and buildings and screwing up legitimate phone users there. One reason it's relatively easy is that it's not necessary to jam the entire band; all you have to do is jam the paging channel forward links.

But it's exceedingly difficult to actively jam CDMA (IS-95 and J-STD-008, used by Verizon, Sprint, Bell Mobility in Canada and many others; and in future by all proposed 3G standards). CDMA uses spread spectrum which was originally developed (by Hedy Lamarr!) precisely because it was extremely difficult to jam, among many other virtues. Modern CDMA adds additional features all of which are intended to make it resiliant in the face of severe disruption. And unlike the other protocols there's no identifiable frequency uniquely used for paging, so it's necessary to jam about 75 MHz of bandwidth (the entire spectrum allocated to forward links) instead of perhaps a carefully-chosen 2 MHz, and at much higher power levels. This is non-trivial.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:26 PM on March 12, 2001

Dreama: Mostly middle class suburbs, where too many teenagers seem to have them, as well as everyone else. And they're starting to be all over my campus at school. They're especially awful in lectures when the professor is trying to speak. And I do think private restaurants have the right. If they can have dress codes or smoking policies, why not no cell phones? You have the right not to go there.

I'm not suprised that most of the people at Metafilter are the responsible, thoughtful people that turn off their cell phones at movies and the like. I think we're probably preaching to the choir here.

Quick addendum that I remembered seeing awhile back: Hong Kong movie theatres want to block cell phones, too. Compared to HK, I guess I shouldn't complain--70% of all people living in Hong Kong have cellphones.
posted by gramcracker at 6:02 PM on March 12, 2001

Pagers usually operate on different frequencies than cell phones, so it would be easy to jam one without harming the other.

But any establishment, especially an eating establishment (where people are having noisy conversations all around, and sound from an inobtrusive ring tone is only a bother if you're oversensitive and nosy) that sought to exert external control over my electronics would not receive my patronage. It is not their right.

First, I disagree with your contention that all restaurants, or even most, are filled with barely-tolerable "noisy conversations," unless your patronage of such places is limited to the Times Square McDonald's. Most restaurants - and definitely the expensive ones - are filled with people having conversations in normal speaking voices, if not subdued voices. Cell phone ringers are almost always much louder than the surrounding conversations, and it's a proven fact that once you start speaking into a cell phone, you subconsciously raise the decibel level of your own voice quite a bit.

And they have every right to tell you what to do with your electronics on their property. You have no more right to use a cell phone in a theater or restaurant than you do to bring in a boom box with you, or to show up without a shirt on. If you don't like it, find somewhere else.

When you go to a restaurant, or a movie theater, or a classical music performance, you're not just there for the food, or to be allowed to see a movie projected on a screen, or to watch people play their instruments. Having a comfortable environment in which to enjoy and appreciate these recreational activities is as important as the activities themselves, and the expectation of such an environment is part of what you're paying for when you go to any of these places. As such, it is in the proprietors' best interests to insure nothing interferes with that comfort level. And since it's their private property, they have the right and the reason to tell you to keep your pie hole shut and your phone turned off.

As Steven noted above, it is illegal to actively jam in the US, not because it infringes on a nonexistent right to use phones anywhere you want for any reason, but because you can't transmit without a license unless the FCC regulations allow for it. And while the FCC has issued a statement saying cellular jammers are illegal, they've never nailed a single person or establishment for having one. And lots of people have them; one UK-based jammer manufacturer says the US is his largest market.

One problem with your analogy is that second-hand cigarette smoke is more than just an annoyance...

No, it is not.
posted by aaron at 12:16 AM on March 13, 2001

hey buddy, i've lived with smokers all my life and let me tell you, it's more than an annoyance. i have no running stamina and i have no lung capacity. proving the cancer link is almost incidental. those two are bad enough. so get off your goddamn high horse. just because fox news reports it doesn't make it so.
posted by pikachulolita at 12:32 AM on March 13, 2001

Correlation does not equal causation. And who publishes a report is irrelevant to whether or not anything contained therein is or is not correct.
posted by aaron at 1:02 AM on March 13, 2001

well, let's see. there's a correlation between secondhand smoke inhalers and decreased lung capacity. but no causation. it's a coincidence! really!
posted by pikachulolita at 1:04 AM on March 13, 2001

It's because those with low lung capacity are drawn to smokers for other reasons, obviously.
posted by kindall at 1:27 AM on March 13, 2001

But who writes the article about the report does have some relevancy. There seems to be lots of info about Steven Milloy and why he writes what he does. And what's with that illustration of him above his column? Is that the devil masturbating?

But back to phones....I don't mind the ringing of them, I just mind the actual talking and the zombie-like trance that the phone user falls into.
posted by gluechunk at 1:28 AM on March 13, 2001

> But back to phones....I don't mind the ringing of them,
> I just mind the actual talking and the zombie-like trance
> that the phone user falls into.

Exactly. If it were just a matter of a ring and then back to normal, cell phones would be bad but not so bad, and you could encourage people to use vibrate mode. The real problem is that the quiet guy next to you suddenly starts yammering away to some yammerer on the other end of the connection.

If this is a normal public conversation, with your voice slightly lowered because you aren't rude enough to think that everyone around you should have to listen to the details of your inane life, then

this is a public conversation

through a cell phone

Jam the damned things. Passively. Actively. Or, as websavvy suggests above, sideways.

Post a sign at the entrance: "You are about to voluntarily enter a phone-free zone. People who require telephone access at all times are advised and encouraged to take their trade elsewhere."

posted by pracowity at 4:28 AM on March 13, 2001


take their trade elsewhere

Man, I really wish there were more places like that, in general. "The Customer Is Always Right" is an almost guaranteed way to piss off all the other customers who know that the customer in question is wrong.
posted by cCranium at 5:18 AM on March 13, 2001

. And I do think private restaurants have the right. If they can have dress codes or smoking policies, why not no cell phones? You have the right not to go there.

It's one thing to say "Use of cell phones is not permitted in public areas of our establishment." They do, of course have that right. They can then kick violators out, just as they would the obnoxious drunk or the idiot who lights up in the non-smoking section.

But it is another thing altogether to interfere with personal devices to force compliance of their rules. Tell patrons the rules, give them the opportunity to follow them, make a bold example of those who do not, and you're likely to get a high compliance rate. But I do not and will not ever agree that any establishment has the right to temporarily "break" the functionality of other people's property just because they've chosen to become customers of that establishment. It is extreme and overreactive to implement a plan which preemptorily will treat everyone as a violator of a no phones policy (which (for the most part has not even been tested, especially in most restaurants) without any evidence to support the notion that everyone who has a phone will use it in the establishment, regardless of policy, and will do so in a disruptive manner.
posted by Dreama at 6:48 AM on March 13, 2001

well, let's see. there's a correlation between secondhand smoke inhalers and decreased lung capacity. but no causation. it's a coincidence! really!

I'm sorry, it's off-topic, I know, but this sort of thing just drives me insane (and let me also say that I'm a smoker who's pretty sure that smoke in whatever form is probably not too good for anyone's lungs anywhere). But.

There's a correlation between sunny summer afternoons and apple-cheeked youngsters playing baseball in Norman Rockwell-like sandy lots. Please explain how the sun causes this. I would appreciate diagrams.
posted by Skot at 8:54 AM on March 13, 2001

[daveadams] One problem with your analogy is that second-hand cigarette smoke is more than just an annoyance...

[aaron] No, it is not.

Well, aaron, that's fair enough, but... The article you linked to only discusses studies done in regards to lung cancer. I'm not too worried about that personally. In particular, I do worry about asthma. I don't know of any studies that have linked second-hand smoke to causation of asthma, but it is a well-known direct cause of asthma symptoms. I know because I have asthma.

I used to have a lot of trouble with my asthma and I've recently had a spell or two of a couple of months in which I've had trouble, but for the most part I've got it under control. However, cigarette smoke is one thing that sets it off worse than just about anything else I've come in contact with. My asthma isn't terrible, and I always have an emergency inhaler on-hand, but for many people, asthma attacks can be life-threatening.

Given that asthma cases have grown exponentially in the past several years, I'm sure we can expect more and more of our population will be bothered/harmed/put-at-risk by exposure to second-hand smoke, and that makes it much much more than an irritant.
posted by daveadams at 12:05 PM on March 13, 2001

Let's all stand up in honor of Red Mill Burgers in Seattle, who stand by a no-cell-phone policy.
posted by argybarg at 12:08 PM on March 13, 2001

heh. love the guy in argybarg's link who thinks that using your cell phone in a restaurant is insulting to the food.

while I try very hard not to annoy people with my cell phone, and am fiercely embarrassed if I should forget to turn it off and it rings someplace where it can be annoying, am I the only one who thinks that rounding up an entire restaurant's staff to yell an anti-cell-phone chant at offenders is a little overboard? and possibly to some innocent bystanders who just wanted to eat, more obnoxious than the cell phone itself? seems awful reminiscent of smokers' persecution to me: "this person does something that invades my space and so that gives me the right to be as much of a preachy, loud, rude, insulting fascist bastard as I like in return." instead of, you know, a polite and discreet little "excuse me sir, I'm sorry but we have a strict policy here, please take your phone/cigarette outside immediately".

Neither cell phone users nor smokers are less deserving of ordinary human consideration than other people, and two rudes don't make a nice, that's for damn sure, though apparently the math is beyond some.

but better than deploying Big-Brother-meets-Miss-Manners jamming technology... I guess.
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:22 PM on March 13, 2001

I dunno, the Red Mill Burgers thing seems like a bit of "local color" for the restaurant, sort of like steakhouses I've heard of that will literally take a big pair of scissors and cut off any tie that someone wears into the place.
posted by harmful at 12:51 PM on March 13, 2001

Hm, speaking of lung cancer and smoking, Morton Downey Jr. is dead
posted by gluechunk at 1:29 PM on March 13, 2001

I promise not to smoke my cell phone in public places...

Actually I just had this happen to me today.. I forgot to turn off my cell when I went to lunch.. mighty embarassing... I answered it to stop the ringer and explained the situation and that I would call back. DOes that make me rude, or just forgetful? (by the way.. I was in the smoking section)
posted by tj at 1:44 PM on March 13, 2001

I was in the smoking section

well, that answers your question right there ;>
posted by Sapphireblue at 2:08 PM on March 13, 2001

Maybe we should have rude bastard/polite bastard/no bastards sections in restaurants...
posted by tj at 2:09 PM on March 13, 2001

No-smoking sections ... are absurd

Absolutely, which is why California's no-smoking-in-any-restaurant rule is awesome (for non-smokers who care).
posted by daveadams at 5:47 PM on March 13, 2001

Waterloo Region in Ontario has had a no-smoking policy for just over a year now (it started January 1, 2000). I was in Kitchener (the largest city in the region) last night and went to a li'l Irish Pub for beer and wings, and it was actually really nice to not have smoke around while I was eating and I'm a smoker. It's a good policy.
posted by cCranium at 5:13 AM on March 14, 2001

Banning smoking in a pub seems silly to me. If you want to save the lives of consumers and bystanders, alcohol is the bad guy. If they banned smoking and drinking in the same place, it would make a little more sense.

(Not that I'm for banning either.)

posted by pracowity at 5:29 AM on March 14, 2001

Oh yeah, I think you may as well let people smoke in bars. Most no-smoking-in-restaurants ordinances (or other restaurant-versus-bar decisions) are based on what percentage of revenue the establishment derives from food sales.
posted by daveadams at 11:25 AM on March 14, 2001

While I support pressure to use cell phones less in public, there are some legitimate uses of cell phones that don't involve talking. SMS (messaging) is extremely popular in Europe and can be sent and received during a movie or a meal without anyone else noticing. Nothing wrong with that.

I've only ever heard a cell phone go off once during a movie (and I see a lot) in the UK. The immediate reponse was 'Turn that f**king thing off or I'll do it for ya'. Thugs can be a good thing sometimes :-)

And, CrayDagu.. non smoking sections aren't entirely stupid. Many non smokers, like myself, don't mind being in the same room as smokers but we don't want them breathing the smoke into our faces. With smokers on the next table, the problem is much worse than if they're on the other side of the room.

Plus.. didn't anyone consider that mobile phone jammers are just going to subject us to even more RF? Some scientists reckon all the radio and TV stations going through our bodies are causing serious damage.. we could do without any more!
posted by wackybrit at 4:37 PM on March 15, 2001

> Plus.. didn't anyone consider that mobile phone jammers
> are just going to subject us to even more RF?

Passive jamming blocks signals, so if you believe that

> all the radio and TV stations going through our bodies
> are causing serious damage

then passive jamming is good for your because it provides an RF-free oasis in a sea of RF noise.
posted by pracowity at 11:54 PM on March 18, 2001

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