Sunday, January 27, 2008

Who Is Jamming Cell Phones In France

Using cell phone jammers is an act subject to a 450 euro fine in France, a nation where only prisons and auditoriums are authorized to use equipment that may render mobile phones inoperative.

So begins a recent article in last week’s French media site Rue89, on the new phenomenon of gadgets that cut out other people’s cell phones, and the reaction of manufacturer Magnum Telecom in light of an official warning to stay within the law of France when marketing and selling such devices.

The article concerns itself mostly with exploring the potential consequences (pros and cons) this newer technology might have in store for society. Buried towards the end of the piece is this small piece of information stemming from an admission by the manufacturer of the cell phone jammers:

“The largest market for cell phone jammers in France, are the mosques”, explains [Pierre-Yves Daumas], who has supplied a couple dozen mosques and a few synagogues.

“They turn them on during prayer, then leave them off the rest of the time.”

A novelty that especially concerns the RG [“Renseignements Generaux”, Central Direction of General Intelligence, the intelligence service of the French police], [French newspaper] Le Point reported back on December 20:

“The RG are concerned about no longer being able to record imams on the sly in their prayer rooms. A recent internal note warns that more and more mosques are using jammers that prevent infiltrated police officers from using their portable cell phones to record the imams.”

The comment about mosques is made in passing, with no follow-up clarification from an imam or other representative on why they are using this supposedly illegal equipment. Maybe people were calling so much to attempt to deliberately disrupt the proceedings that illegal options seemed the only recourse; maybe there's something to hide. Why isn't this a story all its own, surely it is significant news? The way in which stories like these are covered in the French press, they always leave so many unanswered questions, as if the people involved lived in some far-off inaccessible country, rather than only a phone call away. (Maybe the cell phone jammers were actually in use each and every time the reporters at Rue89 called for a reaction on the story, and so they missed getting one in time for the deadline..!)

In leaving their explanation out of the story, does the media not want to know what they have to say? What's going on here?

It is reassuring, however, to learn that somewhere within the French government, there exist people who want to keep tabs on whether the mosques of France might be preaching a more radicalized islam than the talking heads on their television news shows are willing to admit may exist within the state. Somewhere, someone is doing their job.

Towards its conclusion the article compares the practice of the mosques with the position taken by France's Christian churches regarding illegally jamming cell phones during services:

The Catholic Church prefers to “put their faith in the civic-mindedness of its faithful, who come to reflect in silence and turn off their cell phones as they arrive”, noted the Conference of bishops.
At our Church they don't even ask us to shut them off, they just assume we already do it. There are rarely if ever any interruptions warranting a cell phone jammer. (I remember only one occasion in the whole of the previous year where this happened)
Maybe the authors of the piece just never attend church, to know whether it is normal or not to be preventing the faithful from having access to their cell phone while worshiping God...

[Hat tip to french blog Le Conservateur]

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