An Sydney company used an illegal jamming device, inset, to prevent people eavesdropping on board meetings. A Sydney company used an illegal mobile phone jamming device, inset, to prevent people eavesdropping on board meetings. Photo: Peter Braig
A Sydney company so concerned of people eavesdropping on its board meetings that it installed an illegal mobile phone jamming device is one of four businesses recently caught by the communications regulator for using one.

The Sydney company, which the communications regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) would not name for "privacy reasons", installed the device based on an unidentified security expert's recommendation.
What a mobile phone jamming devices looks like. Up close: what a mobile phone jamming devices looks like.

The ACMA said the expert installed it "to prevent persons eavesdropping on board [and] business planning meetings".

A cinema in regional Victoria was one of the others found using an illegal jamming device when it tried to prevent patrons from pirating a new release movie and transmitting it externally where it could have been recorded, the ACMA said.

A warehouse in Melbourne and a company with debt recovery staff in Sydney were among the two other businesses using illegal jamming devices. The ACMA said they used them to prevent staff from using their mobiles during business hours.

How mobile phone jammers work. 
 How mobile phone jammers work.

Separately, a jamming device used by an Adelaide resident which was causing interference with the Telstra network was not given any justification as to why its owner used it in information provided by the communications regulator to Fairfax.

The five illegal mobile phone jamming devices that were in operation in Australia and uncovered during the thirteen months from July 1, 2010 to July 31, 2011 are just some of the ones which originally slipped into Australia without being confiscated.

Each of the five devices were uncovered by the communications regulator's field staff when they operated radio direction finding equipment to uncover them in responding to the hundreds of complaints received in the same period about interference to the public telephone service, which is not always caused by mobile phone jamming devices, the ACMA said.

Between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011 the ACMA said it confiscated 279 jamming devices. Of those, 94 were seized between July 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011 last year; the remaining 185 between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011.

The way in which devices can be confiscated can include but is not limited to international mail carriers, Australia Post and Customs intercepting parcels, finding an illegal jamming device, and sending it to the regulator for it to be destroyed.

In addition to the ACMA's confiscation of mobile phone jamming devices, the Australian Federal Police said it seized 13 of the prohibited jamming devices between May 2011 and February 2012. "Of the ... 13 seized devices, 12 persons were cautioned for using a mobile jamming device subsequent to the Radio Communications Act 1992," an AFP spokeswoman said.

"In one instance, the AFP was unable to identify the importer of the device and this investigation remains ongoing."

The ACMA said it sent letters to the intended recipients of jamming devices sent from overseas advising that the device they purchased online was prohibited, had been forfeited to the Commonwealth and that penalties may apply if a person was found to breach section 189 of the Radiocommunications Act if they were found to have purchased a prohibited device again.

This approach "reduced the risk to spectrum utility" and interference to mobile phone users without imposing an undue burden on industry or consumers, the ACMA said. It added that over the past 18 months it had been "actively monitoring" the internet for mobile phone jamming device suppliers and engaging with Australian businesses offering them for sale, telling them it is illegal to sell them in Australia. "In all cases the businesses contacted have removed the advertising from their site...."

In relation to overseas-based sellers, the regulator said it had written to a number of companies as a "pro-active measure" to highlight that sending jamming devices to Australia could result in them being intercepted. It said some of the overseas sellers it contacted now had disclaimers on their websites advising purchasers to check the legal requirements of the country that they resided in before buying a jamming device.

Jamming devices still in Australia

Since first publishing a report on an American using a mobile phone jammer on a bus in Philadelphia in the US to stop fellow passengers making mobile phone calls, many Australians have come forward to Fairfax saying they used jammers too, in addition to people already mentioned as using them.

One claimed he bought a jamming device about two years ago in London at a gadget shop and has it stuck under his dinning room table to prevent his teenager from using Facebook whilst having dinner. "They have never worked it out," they said.

A second claimed he bought his jammer to "play practical jokes on friends" but said he never tried it on the bus, train or in public. A third, a Sydney man in his late 20s who Fairfax has previously quoted, claimed he carried his jammer "most days" on his train commute to Sydney which lasts about 1 hour and 45 minutes each way. He said he used it about 2 to 3 times a month.

"It came through Customs without a problem marked as 'electronic device' from memory," the consultant said.

He defended its use despite knowing it was illegal to use by saying he wasn't an "anarchist" but disliked rude, arrogant and selfish people on trains. But given recent media coverage by Fairfax on jamming devices being used in Australia, he said he was worried "about getting caught and will most likely carry it less, if at all".

A third mobile phone jamming device user from Cairns claimed he bought his in Shanghai three years ago. He complained of too many people using their mobile phones in restaurants. "They start talking - blammo, I take 'em out."

He said he took it to the Sydney and Queensland Symphony after he read that concert halls in the US had them installed despite it being illegal to use them their too.

Another, not a jamming device user, claimed a teacher used one in Canberra "to stop people from getting the internet and calling people", whilst another, in Brisbane, said he recently saw one on sale at a transient market.