back to article Justice Ministry to spaff £70k finding out how prisoners like to use ILLEGAL mobes

The UK's Ministry of Justice is planning to spend up to £70,000 on finding out how prisoners like to use their illegal mobile phones in jail, after deciding that jamming the forbidden mobes would be "prohibitively expensive". In an advertisement to companies to bid on the research project, which is due to kick off this month, …

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  1. wolfetone Silver badge

    So it costs the Government £70,000 to ask GCHQ to spy on people then?

    Who knew.

    1. LarsG

      Old news from the Daily Mail

      Why spend £70,000 when they know illegal phones are used for phone sex, drug dealing and playing the lottery.

      I've just saved them spending the money, though I don't understand why asking a question costs so much?

  2. Yet Another Commentard

    One of life's little ironies

    That as a law abiding citizen I can't get a mobile signal in my own home, but they seem to be able to get one in Dartmoor prison.

    1. Phil W

      Re: One of life's little ironies

      It's fairly obvious why that's the case though.

      If mobile operators try to put up masts in residential areas the NIMBY lot complain about it being an eye-sore or that it'll give them cancer. I'd suggest you complain to your parish council since it's likely most of them doing the complaining.

      I wouldn't be surprised if there are masts mounted on top of the prison buildings, it's not like the prisoners will be allowed to register any kind of complaint about it.

    2. Wize

      Re: One of life's little ironies

      Can imagine the frustration of someone smuggling a mobile into jail up their hoop (3 pin charger included) only to find out they can't get a good signal on the 3 network.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: One of life's little ironies

        I think you might have to remove it first.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One of life's little ironies

        >Can imagine the frustration of someone smuggling a mobile into jail up their hoop

        Not that frustrating these days - they're built into trainer heels, brushes, other electrical equipment etc..... One of the more interesting applications of 3D printing.......though in context of prisons, undetectable knives etc are probably more of a worry.

        Prisons presumably use femtocells already, since all such calls are illegal no need for warrants - my guess is the £70K is going to someone who can actually explain what the inmates are saying.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Facepalm

      Re: One of life's little ironies

      You should consider moving to Dartmoor.

    4. paulf Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: One of life's little ironies

      @Yet Another Commentard

      > That as a law abiding citizen I can't get a mobile signal in my own home, but they seem to be able to

      > get one in Dartmoor prison.

      Perhaps the cause of this is the 200m North Hessary Tor transmitter that is within spitting distance of HMP Dartmoor at Princetown?

      http://www.thebigtower.com/live/NHT/Index.htm

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: One of life's little ironies

        " Perhaps the cause of this is the 200m North Hessary Tor transmitter that is within spitting distance of HMP Dartmoor at Princetown?

        http://www.thebigtower.com/live/NHT/Index.htm"

        .... which transmits TV and radio only, and has bugger all to do with mobile comms!

  3. Blofeld's Cat
    Facepalm

    Top of the world Ma...

    I would have though a few cheap femtocells and some recording equipment would have answered that question in short order - as well as detecting the illegal phones.

    What's the betting the survey says that the phones are only ever used for checking on family welfare.

    1. Refugee from Windows
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Top of the world Ma...

      Not that we'd give anyone any ideas.

      Femtocell - Capture the IMEI numbers of the phones and the SIM number. Check with networks to see if they are used anywhere else. If not then kill both off from the network.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Top of the world Ma...

        If they can't afford something to block mobile phone signals, I doubt they can afford something to snoop on them. That or they don't get as many kickbacks as running a consultation.

        Either way, they're not going to get any femtocells.

        1. John Tserkezis

          Re: Top of the world Ma...

          "Either way, they're not going to get any femtocells."

          Surely a femtocell isn't going to cost 70K? Or is it just easier for them to create a committee on the issue and pretend to do something about it, rather than ACTUALLY doing something about it?

    2. Wize

      Re: Top of the world Ma...

      "What's the betting the survey says that the phones are only ever used for checking on family welfare."

      What do you use your illegal mobile phone for?

      A) Checking on the hoes you are pimping.

      B) Telling your crew to beat up the family of someone who pissed you off inside.

      C) Checking with your family and talking to your pet dog.

      Yea, who is going to answer anything but C.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Top of the world Ma...

        > Yea, who is going to answer anything but C

        A practical joker. :-)

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Doh! Why don't they just...

    search the cells etc more frequently and remove said devices. It can't be beyond the bods at GCHQ to come up with a portable scanner to help in the detection of the phones?

    Then pass the phones to the police as I'm sure they'd be very interested in the numbers being called.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doh! Why don't they just...

      Rather than take them away, let them keep the phones and route them through your own network first before going outside. You can then monitor and gather intelligence on crimes/gangs etc.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Doh! Why don't they just...

        Make a sentence out of the words "police" and "intelligence"

  5. Pat 11

    couldn't the SPs block by location?

    Surely the operators can block on location using cell triangulation. Screw's phones could be white listed.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: couldn't the SPs block by location?

      Operators probably can detect that a phone is inside a prison and isn't on the whitelist, but why should they? I assume there isn't a law that makes it their responsibility. If there was, then we wouldn't be discussing the problem.

  6. Maharg

    Idea's

    I can suggest a number of options that may cost around £70,000 to solve the problem rather than just look into it.

    Install devices to detect mobile phone signals, wire them up to loudspeakers turned up to 11 with either a 5 second loop of the sound of vuvuzelas being blown at the South African World cup, or Christina Aguilera hitting a high ‘warble’ note (YAAAAAyaaaaYAAAAAohhhhOHHHHHohhhh), both can be played constantly for half an hour, supply the staff with ear defenders.

    Pay a telemarketing company to spam call every prisoner with offers on holiday flights leaving that day.

    Give all the prisoners mobiles on 3.

    Line the roof and/or the walls of the cell block with metal to block and disrupt the signal.

    Increase the budget of the prison staff to allow them to employee more people and carry out more searches.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Idea's

      Maharg, could you please point out which of your "solutions" would cost around £70k and not considerably more?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Idea's

      > I can suggest a number of options

      Ok, now can you actually *implement* any one option at a cost inferior to GBP70K? Have you even proposed any of your ideas to HMPS?

  7. Crisp Silver badge

    It's a frigging prision.

    Shouldn't be too difficult to erect some kind of cage around it.

  8. Evoflash

    I watch too many silly fims...

    Daily EMP in the prison.

    Means the staff have to work on paper :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I watch too many silly fims...

      And can't have pacemakers or nerve stimulators.

  9. Robin Bradshaw

    Everything they need except a user manual

    So set up an IMSI catcher that downgrades all the connections to A5/0 and log away to your hearts content, throw in some voice print analysis and you should be able to make a nice list of who has what phone and what they are doing with it. It not like you even need an expensive one from Rhode & Schwartz, you could probably repurpose the femto cells the carriers sell to make the phone work in your house.

    Or alternatively grep through the carriers logs for the phones that never change location from the prison and are only switched on sporadically then route a copy of all calls to and from those numbers to GCHQ, I mean whats the point in building all that lawfull intercept infrastructure if you not going to use it :)

    1. This Side Up
      Headmaster

      Re: Everything they need except a user manual

      "phones that never change location from the prison and are only switched on sporadically "

      Er, no. If the phones are switched on sporadically they must change location! You probably mean "spasmodically".

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eh? what the problem here

    All mobiles will have a aerial of a known size why not just have a cheap metal detector on that frequency/ wave length to find the mobiles, they can find shivs with it too. I accept cash Mr Minister thanks

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Eh? what the problem here

      Dear Mr Coward, your proposal needs to estimate the time spent handling false positives before we can consider it for a feasibility study.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Eh? what the problem here

        So aside from recorded medical issues when would a body search ever give a false positive, metal or phone its all bad

  11. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Put a high strength cell station in the prison so the phones lock onto it as the nearest strongest signal, then snoop out the data going through it.

  12. Why Not?

    Mobile detectors

    As pointed out efficient mobile detectors are dirt cheap to make. You commission some from a supplier and turn the cells over when the alarm goes off.

    Not sure with a femtocell you can force phones on it?

    like the idea of the IMSI catcher and banning the phones.

    It is actually against the rules to have a mobile in Prison isn't it?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Mobile detectors

      It is illegal to have the phone in Prison.

      However once you start intercepting the calls I expect there would be a queue of inmates a mile long waiting to take their case to the European court protesting a violation of their human rights. Just removing the phones is a far lower risk policy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mobile detectors

        > It is illegal to have the phone in Prison.

        It is also illegal to drive over the speed limit, however how would you feel if police started confiscating transgressors' cars? 2 wrongs ≠ 1 right and all that.

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Mobile detectors

      Actually for UMTS or other CDMA networks it's far from trivial to build one since they have very low transmit powers which additionally don't change regularly. GSM is simple to detect, you just look at the output power of a simple detector and once you find a set of repeating bursts at a certain burst frequency you know you have GSM.

  13. Nifty

    GCHQ already has all the taxpayer funded mobile equipment to log the phone IDs and intercept. Make it a GCHQ junior training exercise to collect the info needed. Cost = near zero.

    Although the reality is, the Govt does not have the heart (political will) to actually prevent usage.

    Or: ALLOW personal mobe ownership (and the internet access that comes with it...) but advertise the fact that all mobes in range of the prison will be monitored via an agreement with the service providers. Hard luck for the privacy of people living next to prisons.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Privacy?

      Hard luck for the privacy of people living next to prisons.

      I thought we gave up on privacy long ago.

      /sarcasm

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Great Games Players .... This Way, Bitte schön! :-)

      Although the reality is, the Govt does not have the heart (political will) to actually prevent usage. .... Nifty Posted Monday 6th January 2014 12:18 GMT

      Nor the physical or metadatabase physical virtual reality command of control for Powerful Developments Forwards either, which has them seriously disadvantaged and rendered as garbage for history to rearrange into the semblance of a an Ab Fab Fabless Tale to Bounteous Treasures with Addictive Pleasures.

      CodeXSSXXXXgsi.gov.co.uk is a Strange Office Space Just Full of Apps and Advanced Operations .... Progressive AIMissions ...... SMARTR Watchful Enterprise Ad Ventures with Advanced IntelAIgent Systems of Spooky IntelAIgent Design with Quantum Communication Deadlocks to Rearrange Times with the State to Give New Vital Reasons for Success with the Black Watch Virtual AdVenturing in Fields with Dark Web Presents and Uncertain Futures.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: Great Games Players .... This Way, Bitte schön! :-)

        Muuuuum!, they let him out again!

  14. John 98

    Calling home is extortionate

    The per minute rate for prisoners phoning home legally is extortionate - especally when you're earning a tenner a week (if I recall correctly 50p + a minute and a lot more if home is overseas). So many of the mobile calls probably are to home and family.

    Obviously prisoners' calls need to be controlled, but the present stupid phone policy (family breakdown is a major factor in reoffending and many prisoners are illiterate, so forgot letters) needs rethinking. Make calls home cheap\free and then you know any mobile call detected is for nefarious reasons and needs investigating.

    And a femtocell or a tower should be pretty easy in those prisons (a fair few) which are out in the sticks. But I suspect the civil service has been quoted £100m by Capita to do this ...

    I used to work in a prison btw.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: Calling home is extortionate

      You can't make calling home free. How is the Home office expected to take it's cut from the outsourced tender.

      1. John 98

        Re: Calling home is extortionate

        Well - common sense says it pays for itself - less prisoners coming straight back in on release. And less citizens being mugged or burgled (assuming the Home Office cares - one wonders).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Calling home is extortionate

      Should help those inside for extortion empathise with their victims a little more then.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Calling home is extortionate

        > Should help those inside for extortion empathise with their victims a little more then.

        I bet you do think you're being funny.

    3. WraithCadmus
      Thumb Up

      Re: Calling home is extortionate

      Have an upvote for a sensible and compassionate suggestion. It appeals to my bleeding heart.

      Side Rant: If prison is meant to turn people into better-functioning members of society, then why is there such glee in anything punitive we do to them? We've known for decades that rehabilitation works and that caging someone like an animal simply produces an animal.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jamming?

    All they need is a Faraday cage to block the signal.

    How much would it cost to wrap chicken wire around a prison and strap it to Earth?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Jamming?

      It's surprisingly difficult to build a Faraday cage that can reliably block mobile phone signals. I discovered this while trying to test software that ran on hand-held computers and used GPRS.

      My best effort involved a Marks & Spencers biscuit tin with a window cut in in to allow the stylus through, covered in 6mm chicken wire. Even that only weakened the signal.

  16. Daniel Bower

    They are used for

    Drug deals, continuing with their 'business interests' on the outside, porn lines and speaking to family.

    Can I have £70k please?

  17. Maldax

    How about....

    Make a list of the people that are not using the Prison Pay Phone! Then take away their phones!

  18. johnaaronrose

    Jamming

    The article quotes: The UK's Ministry of Justice after deciding that jamming the forbidden mobes would be "prohibitively expensive".

    I find this hard to believe. It costs approx £50 to buy a jammer that works for over 10 metres radius. Many US cinemas have mbile phone jammers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Jamming

      But it costs 50k a year to employ the lone procurement officer for the device... (No that's not a typo, I'm sure they'd only manage to get 1 ;) )

  19. volsano

    We already know there are two main uses...

    1. Staying in touch with families. It is cheaper in prison to hire an illegal phone than use the usuriously charged payphones on the wing landings. And more private too. A better phone deal with BT would cut this usage at a stroke.

    2. Sending money out for illegal deals (such as drug purchases). In a prison, most drugs come in via the uniformed staff, but the money transfers have to happen via a different method. In the old days, you'd get friends or family on the out to give money to people in pubs for you. Today, it is much more online. Reduce the drugs going in, and you reduce the need for cross-wall cash flow.

  20. Moeluk

    Pretty sure you can build a fairly decent mobile phone jammer from a selection of parts from Maplins....

    All you need to do is transmit absolute junk over the bands. Ok so prison officers can't make mobile calls in the surrounding area...but who cares.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OMG!!!

    What are the Injustice Ministry spending this money for, when all they had to do was read The Register's comments section to find out the answers to why, how, and everything else rolled into one?

    And all that from the illustrious contributors who no doubt have intimate experience in these sorts of matters, not to mention years of experience conducting behavioural research and implementing complex technological solutions to social problems.

    As Dr. Vitaly Klitschko is reputed to have said: "Chess is like boxing, except that in chess nobody considers himself an expert but everyone plays, while in boxing everyone is an expert but nobody steps into the ring and fights."

    Technology is a bit like boxing, isn't it? :-)

    1. volsano

      Re: OMG!!!

      Hello AC,

      Some of us have extensive hands-on experience of the actual problems in prisons.

      And we have watched for years as the government ignores the obvious, and ignores the expert testimony in order to pay for another study that will be ignored.

      Cheers for sticking up with the man, but it's not much help long term.

  22. phil dude
    Coat

    controlled environment...

    sort of makes a mock of the idea a prison is a controlled environment.

    Perhaps they should build prisons out of the same materials as Oxford colleges, the signal in them is atrocious, and they keep the undergraduates locked up ;-)

    P.

  23. Bob H

    Jamming mobile signals is actually illegal, I prefer my government agencies to obey the law of the land.

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