back to article Brit prosecutors fling almost a million quid at anti-drone'n'phone ideas

The UK's Ministry of Justice is offering up to £50,000 for bright ideas to stop drones and mobile phones from getting into prisons. "The aim of this competition is to develop novel detection techniques to identify these and other contraband items," according to the funding notice. Top priority for the MoJ is detecting and …

  1. Whitter
    Meh

    £50k doesn't cut it for being "commercially exploitable"

    % of sales however...

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: £50k doesn't cut it for being "commercially exploitable"

      I guess the 'commercially exploitable' means they don't need to pay any licensing, although of course they still need to pay for equipment.

      For me, I think faffing about with e-solutions to detect/stop drones is stupid. Just put fishing nets all round and above prison yards. Cheap to install and maintain, and if fine enough would also stop stuff being lobbed over the walls. Job done

      Can I have my 50 grand please?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: £50k doesn't cut it for being "commercially exploitable"

        Pay the staff £50k not to bring phone in for the prisoners.

        Then the bad guy will have to bribe them more

        Then you can just arrest any prison officer suddenly driving to work in a Porsche (can't spell Lamborghini)

  2. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Presumably the Reg has covered the Beat The BOSS phone, BOSS standing for Body Orifice Scanner Seat - basically a sit-on body scanner. The BtB phone is, er, ergonomically shaped with low metal content.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      RE: BtB Phone

      Presumably such phones have a ringtone that features bum notes?

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Here I was thinking just have everyone walk through a larger version of an MRI machine. If someone screams, there's probably a phone near some sensitive body part.

  3. Grouchy Bloke

    would a

    great big net over the prison not work?

    1. Buzzword

      Re: would a

      And to stop mobile phone transmissions, can we make the net's mesh size small enough to block mobile phone signals (i.e. a faraday cage)?

      1. mike white 1

        Re: would a

        a net would also prevent seagulls from raiding the prison bins

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: would a

      A net. Yes.

      Make it with a metal (wire) running through the mesh and it would act as a shield against mobile phone signals (if the mesh was correctly designed). That wouldn't completely block the signal, but it would make things harder. Randomise the daily schedule so that pre-scheduled "drops" would have a much lower chance of anyone being able to collect the contraband.

      In addition, remove the opportunities to recharge the phones once they are inside the prison.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: would a

        You don't need a wire net to block cell signal. You need the little black boxes they put in the Albert Hall.

        Typical El Reg Commentator overthink.

        1. Flakk Silver badge

          Re: would a

          @Stevie

          I think that's the ideal answer. Jam the bands used by cell phones and Wi-Fi. Turn smartphones into expensive "Flappy Bird" consoles.

          I can't help but indulge in a bit of overthink. A huge fan of the technology since its introduction in 1987, I believe the ideal system for drone interdiction would be the ED-209.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: would a

            "I think that's the ideal answer. Jam the bands used by cell phones and Wi-Fi. Turn smartphones into expensive "Flappy Bird" consoles."

            The problem there is some prisons are in built-up areas, or have public roads running by them so the jammers have to be very, very carefully calibrated and positioned or they'd be in breach of existing laws. Or change the law for a specific use case.

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: would a

              I would also kill the guards' phones which may not be a bad thing overall.

  4. Martin Budden

    As always, law enforcement is a step behind criminal ingenuity. It has always been this way, and always will, because that is the nature of opportunity vs regulation.

    Even so, incarceration is and always has been a bloody big disincentive.

    Nothing new to see here, move along.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      If the criminals were that ingenious they wouldn't be inside a prison, no?

      But yeah, there's some issues regarding prison population size vs prison size, staffing levels, staffing turn over, training and pay, sentencing etc etc etc

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Incarceration means the prisoners have plenty of time on their hands in which to think about ways to overcome whatever obstacles the Powers That Be put in their way.

      Over here in the comments section we offer up come ideas based on a few minutes thought while reading the article while drinking a cup of tea.

      Contrast that with someone who's banged up in a cell for hours every day with nothing better to do than think about how to improvise a phone charger out of whatever material they can get their hands on.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Even so, incarceration is and always has been a bloody big disincentive.

      Not much of a disincentive, given that we've got 80,000 crims in clink in the UK at any one time, despite most prisoners being released halfway through their sentence. And the re-offending rate for prisoners released from a custodial sentence of less than 12 months is a staggering 58% re-offending within a year of release, showing that the majority are neither reformed, nor deterred. And the more previous offences an offender has, the more likely to re-offend in future.

      So not a bloody big disincentive. To paraphrase the immortal words of Messrs Clement and La Frenais, it would appear that inmates are mostly habitual criminals, who accept arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accept imprisonment in the same casual fashion.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Having a database society helps so that everything follows you and a conviction for possession of a joint 20years ago means you can never have a job, or these days go within 20miles of a child.

  5. Ralph the Wonder Llama
    Go

    Trained Pigeons

    Armed with lasers.

    What?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Trained Pigeons

      Fool! You should be genetically engineering sharks so they can fly, then you add the laser.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trained Pigeons

      Build moats round all the prisons then get some duck billed platypus wearing monocles, top hats and walking sticks trained to confuse anyone trying to smuggle contraband using interpretive dance routines.

      I see no problem with this plan.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Trained Pigeons

        From a recent Rick and Morty:

        Candidate for Mayor Rick on stage: More lasers!

        Debate chairman: Very good. Are you sure you don't want to hear the question though?

      2. Elmer Phud

        Re: Trained Pigeons

        Stupid idea.

        Have you EVER seen a platypus wearing a monocle?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Trained Pigeons

          Yes.

          https://pbs.twimg.com/media/AvfVP-HCQAAbuVw.jpg

          https://tamiboyce.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/platypus_monocle.LR_.WM.jpg

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Trained Pigeons

          > Have you EVER seen a platypus wearing a monocle?

          No, but see Rule 34

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Trained Pigeons

            Eagles.

            There must be some that Moonbase isn't using.

            1. MyffyW Silver badge

              Re: Trained Pigeons

              Would the pigeons be any good as prison warders though?

              I do like the idea of using duck-billed platypuses, but I'm concerned any solution also needs to involve anti-matter. That's always the answer...

        3. Mark 85 Silver badge

          @Elmer Phud -- Re: Trained Pigeons

          Have you EVER seen a platypus wearing a monocle?

          Ok.. let's dump the platypus. How about Mr. Peanut*?

          *http://www.planters.com/get-to-know-planters/planters-through-the-years

      3. PNGuinn
        Thumb Up

        Almost there, ac

        You've got as far as reinventing the moat. Well done. lad.

        Now, can you go the next step, forget about the pigeons and fill the moat with frikkin sharks fitted with ...

      4. Adam 1 Silver badge

        Re: Trained Pigeons

        > Build moats round all the prisons then get some duck billed platypus wearing monocles, top hats and walking sticks trained to confuse anyone trying to smuggle contraband using interpretive dance routines.

        > I see no problem with this plan.

        Did it slip your mind that all* animals from Australia are venomous?

        *Ok, I exaggerate. Some of the sheep are safe.

      5. Adam 1 Silver badge

        Re: Trained Pigeons

        > Build moats round all the prisons

        You guys really need to stop sending your politicians such mixed message! I thought you emphatically told them NO MOATS a few years back.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How much are window locks at B & Q?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "How much are window locks at B & Q?"

      About 1/10th the price of the Govt. issue "prison grade" ones sourced directly from some Ministers brother-in-law.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Location, Location, Location

    Put all prisons on remote islands and then implement an area defence system to destroy all incoming objects.

    Don't allow visitors.

    Because the conditions will be so tough, make sentences shorter.

    All recidivists get double their previous sentence until they stop or die.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Location, Location, Location

      How effective were gulags?*

      *If crime continues inside them then it isn't a sucess, you have displaced the issue. Which might be enough for society but only if you're going to give people a life long label they can never remove.

      1. thegroucho

        Re: Location, Location, Location

        I think gulags weren't what you might assume they were.

        Locking up career criminals alongside political prisoners is likely to generate issues.

        Also - if the conditions there were semi-normal then the black markets for food, clothes, etc would have been non-existent.

        Plus the political prisoners weren't meant to be 'reformed' - they were meant to perish in the harsh conditions.

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: Location, Location, Location

          @ thegroucho Yes, they were, but given the lock em up and let them die their sentiments being expressed that isn't far of what some people are calling for for everyone who goes to prision.

    2. Elmer Phud

      Re: Location, Location, Location

      We did that before -

      and ended up with Australia.

      (and the sugar plantations and, and)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they're that concerned ...

    ... just jam them. Yes, I know that's illegal and would create a dead area around the facility, but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it if they don't like it. Anything else either won't work or will have even nastier potential side effects (like projectile weaponry or making drones crash onto roads and houses).

    The other option is even simpler, doesn't require changing the law and addresses all security threats rather than just these two - hire sufficient staff!

    A/C because we built a prison security system a while ago.

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re:but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it if they don't like it

      ... one of the most chilling things I think I've read this week.

      If a majority of people believe this, we're already fucked.

      (I know any US readers will have snorted at that, and thanked their lucky stars for 1776. I can already hear them saying "See, 231 years, and the British STILL don't get it.")

      Governments that get to do whatever they like, unfettered by law, aren't governments. They are occupying forces.

      1. David Lewis 2

        Re: Re:but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it if they don't like it

        "...but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it retrospectively if they don't like it ..."

        TFIFY

      2. Lysenko

        Re: Re:but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it if they don't like it

        Re:but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it if they don't like it

        ... one of the most chilling things I think I've read this week.

        I think he's referring to the fact that Ministers can vary the rules regarding jamming telecommunication devices via secondary legislation (Executive Orders to Americans) if they want to. It is already done on a temporary basis to defeat cellphone triggered IEDs during particular events.

        More generally, the principle of Parliamentary Supremacy means that no parliament may bind its successors and that the Judicial branch cannot countermand the express will of parliament. Add that to the fact that any government has to have a parliamentary majority and it is clearly true that the government can attempt to change any law it finds inconvenient. That doesn't mean they'll succeed. They would have to get a majority of MPs (650 of them) to go along with it and secure Royal Assent. For a technical measure regarding radio broadcast frequencies that is likely to be possible - for an Enabling Act it likely isn't.

        As for the USA, they may have a written constitution but what it actually means is decided by only 9 people (currently), all nominated by the Executive and subject to approval by only one part of the Legislature. Since the number of justices isn't fixed, you only need to rig the votes of 102 people (the President and a majority of Senators) to pack the Court with stooges and achieve the same effective power. FDR nearly tried this in the '30's but managed to get his own way without doing so.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Re:but the Government isn't restricted by the law since they can change it if they don't like it

          "I think he's referring to the fact that Ministers can vary the rules regarding jamming telecommunication devices via secondary legislation"

          I suspect it's more like not understanding the constitutional subtleties of Government Vs Parliament. Which can be understood, as the government seems to misunderstand at the moment.

          Or did I just miss a joke?

    2. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: If they're that concerned ...

      "hire sufficient staff!"

      This, except that many times it is the staff themselves who are the weak links in the security. So you have to pay them enough to make bribery less of an incentive, and also have systems in place where nothing can be done by one guard on their own, and there are no fixed pairs of guards that can get things done together

  9. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Stop

    Lateral thinking ....

    rather than worrying about people getting contraband into jails, why not start with reducing the number of people in jail to start with ? (I.e. reduce the attack surface area).

    Reviewing our asinine drugs laws would be a start. And then all the offences about "offence" ....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lateral thinking ....

      Agreed, but at the same time make sentencing for driving under the influence draconian.

      Hopefully it will make people think twice before they have a spliff and then go driving.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: have a spliff and then go driving

        happily have as draconian a penalty as you want.

        When you bring me evidence that there was impairment.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: have a spliff and then go driving

          Using FPS video games as a proxy (quick, accurate reactions required), I would be more confident about driving drunk than I would be about driving stoned though I definitely wouldn't do either. SSRIs (Prozac etc) - no detectable difference, benzodiazepines (Valium etc) - about as bad as being over the limit but not otherwise obviously drunk.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Lateral thinking ....

        Hopefully it will make people think twice before they have a spliff and then go driving.

        And a total driving ban on people taking prescription anti-depressants ?

  10. Mephistro Silver badge

    Phones? Easy peasy!

    Femtocells controlled by the prison authorities, with a list of authorized IMSIs. Temporary visitors can obtain a short lived authorization -a few hours- so they can communicate with the exterior in an emergency. Add a network of directional detectors to immediately pinpoint unauthorized calls so the wardens can immediately identify any intern trying to make a call, possibly with the help of the prisons surveillance cameras. This should be balanced by inexpensive 'controlled' landline calls so the interns can call their families at a reasonable prize.

    The drones? Birds of prey trained to attack drones, helped by a network of directional detectors in the outer walls looking for the frequencies used for controlling drones, detecting their place of origin and probably interfering with the control signals. For drones controlled by mobile phones, see the first paragraph.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easy answer

    Just lock the prisoners in their cells 24/7. This does have a few disadvantages of course such as the prisoners being insane when they are finally released and being totally against the letter and spirit of human rights laws but it would stop delivery of contraband items.

    An alternative for the mobile phone problem - build prisons on islands such as Skye where the mobile phone service is so bad that for much of the island no phone can get a signal.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Easy answer

      If you're going to select prison locations based on how rubbish the mobile phone reception, then I'm worried that someone's going to put in a planning application for a prison next door to my house.

  12. davidp231

    Vultures, with laser beams attached to their heads?

    1. PNGuinn
      Childcatcher

      Vultures, with laser beams attached to their heads?

      Won't anyone think of the commentards?

      >>He'll do.

  13. Elmer Phud

    Easy

    Moat

    Sharks

    Friggin' lasers

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Easy

      "Moat"

      That might be a problem around places like Pentonville and Wormwood scrubs. The neighbours may not take kindly to swapping their cars for boats.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For the drones thing...

    Just spend the 50K on covering the prison with a giant micro-filament net... air and sunshine can fall from the sky... but no contraband... then you can make 'spider-drones' that crawl the this giant web and ingest anything stuck in it... a bit like a giant spider-web... or something...

  15. Jim 59

    Cynical view

    Call me cynical, but I reckon it would be easy-peasy to stop phones getting into prisons and to block signals within, but allowing a certain level pf phone traffic helps to pacify prisoners

  16. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Wouldn't two of those self-aiming machine cannons from James Bond's Aston Martin Vanish be the quickest option? I mean, we've had that tech since, what, 2002?

    1. PNGuinn
      Go

      Re: Bah! Linkie from another post ...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmSyrGsqmg8

  17. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Hire that bloke from Tennessee with a shotgun.

  18. Haku
    Happy

    Solution - subterranean prisons.

    Total block on drones and wireless signals.

    Surely all those unused coal mines can be put to some good use again.

    Can I have my £50k now please?

    1. Marcus Fil

      Re: Solution - subterranean prisons.

      I am with you on this. No signal. No drones. You could pipe in natural daylight using fibre optic bundles - with suitable wide area collectors and mixed feeds making the ability to flash messages in and out rather tricky. Of course, how long before some criminal syndicate funds the development of a remotely operated tunnelling machine?

  19. JulieM Silver badge

    Low-tech solutions

    What about (1) employing sufficient staff to be able to do their jobs properly, (2) locking fewer people up in the first place, (3) not having any cell towers within range of prisons (or maybe just one cell tower, that is locked to specific SIM ICCIDs, so only pre-approved phones can connect to it) or (4) realising that preventing prisoners from making phone calls might not be the easiest stage at which to deal with the problem?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Low-tech solutions

      (2) locking fewer people up in the first place

      Referring to the appalling rates of re-offending, we can be sure that a spell in clink doesn't reform the bastards. But having the scum put away certainly minimises the inconvenience the rest of us whilst they can only offend against fellow offenders (a "problem" that I don't give a shit about).

      So, if you want fewer people put away, what offences that currently carry a custodial sentence do you propose should be non-custodial, bearing in mind these are people who we can confidently say are scofflaws who will take every advantage of not being in clink? Or are you proposing that the sentences net of parole should be even shorter than they already are?

  20. nicboyde

    I've never seen the point of not using a shotgun. We have in Britain plenty of trained clay-pigeon shooters who'd love a nice easy shot at a loaded drone. Probably wouldn't have to pay them if you let them keep the contraband. Or a tenner per 'bird' downed, whichever.

    For me, though, the right thing to do would be to permit all the drugs and phones to enter freely. Someone sitting in a THC haze texting his mum isn't the bloke sharpening a shiv and/or denouncing all and sundry as kaffir unbelievers (replace with religious maniac epithet of your choice).

  21. MSmith

    Stingrays

    Why bother? Just use Stingray devices inside the prison. You can then send all the calls to the bit bucket. You can also monitor all the calls and record them to gain intelligence. Since prison staff generally not allowed to have cell phones inside the prison (they use land lines), only illegal prisoner-possessed phones would be affected.

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