back to article Prisoners' 'innovative' anti-IMSI catcher defence was ... er, tinfoil

Prisoners at a Scottish jail evaded an IMSI catcher deployed to collar them making illegal phone calls – by putting up tinfoil after bungling guards left the spy gear visible to inmates. “As you are also aware the invisible grabber at HMP Shott [sic] was visible,” Maurice Dickie of the Scottish Prison Service wrote in an …

  1. PTW
    Mushroom

    Ready for the down votes, but...

    Isn't it about time Ofcom arrived in the 21st century and licensed low powered jammers?

    Prisons - problem solved

    Theaters - problem solved

    Cinemas - problem solved

    Quite coach - problem solved

    FFS Ofcom!

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

      On the face of it I don't see an issue... Except maybe in the *quiet* coach where use of a mobile hotspot would still be required.

      Also need to be sure that hotels etc didn't abuse this to force guests onto expensive WiFi networks.

      1. Known Hero

        Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

        Agree about the coach, lets say I'm driving down the motorway and I cut up a coach and brake check them, I'm going to be really annoyed if it interrupts my phonecall !!!

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

        Jamming wifi is already covered - the FCC has bared its fangs a few times, but Ofcom is the kind of regulator who avoid doing anything.

        Theatres and others can be locked down fairly easily. I know of one multiplex that was built with RF in mind from the outset (the owner was a movie enthusiast and pissed off about yammerers) and phones simply don't work once you go into the threatres. No jammers needed.

        As far as IMSI or not IMSI is concerned: It's actually better to build genuine mobile cells at or close to the prisons and then have them lockout call access to anything within N metres of the antennas in the directions matching the location of the prison (It's perfectly feasible to lockout where distance is greater than N and less than M too, or direct them to an authorised tapping system)

        The problem witch cracking down on mobiles in jails is that it's worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of smuggled phones in the UK are used to keep in contact with family, due to over-restrictive access to and overly high pricing for the in-prison phones, not for other ongoing criminal shit.

        Isolated lags end up with higher recidivism rates upon release and lack of family contact is also linked to higher in-prison violence levels so this genuinely needs addressing as a matter of high priority - at which point anything left inside the walls should be more nefarious and able to be stomped on hard. The whole "retribution/revenge" vs "reconciliation/repair" thing needs to be sorted out because you don't really want a revolving door where going to prison turns people into hardened crooks who will only ever know prison or a crminal life outside. The IMSI stuff is only tackling one part of a hugely complicated mess.

        1. CRConrad

          Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

          Alan Brown writes: "It's actually better to build genuine mobile cells at or close to the prisons and then have them lockout call access to anything within N metres of the antennas in the directions matching the location of the prison (It's perfectly feasible to lockout where distance is greater than N and less than M too, or direct them to an authorised tapping system)"

          So the simplest way would actually be to put the cell towers right in the middle of the prison, and lock out anything closer than the radius?

          Disturbing the neighbours is easily avoidable by having all prisons be circular; it's the most efficient layout for a panopticon anyway.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Screw downvotes

      It's prison, there is no justification for functioning mobile phones. Guards have their radios, prisoners have a wall phone in the dedicated area they can get to when they're authorized to. Blanket the area with jamming, no reason not to. No rights are being infringed thanks to the presence of the wall phones.

      As for theaters/cinemas, I'd agree but apparently there, there is a question of rights, namely the right to annoy everyone with a phone complaining about how much it costs to be there trumps the right to benefit from the play/film you paid the same bloody amount to see in peace.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Screw downvotes

        If all prisons were miles out in the sticks then maybe jammers would be OK. But in Britain they're mostly surrounded by legitimately mobile-phone using neighbours, who probably wouldn't appreciate being returned to 20th century comms. IMSI catchers seem to be a more proportionate way of tackling the problem.

        1. FIA

          Re: Screw downvotes

          But in Britain they're mostly surrounded by legitimately mobile-phone using neighbours, who probably wouldn't appreciate being returned to 20th century comms. IMSI catchers seem to be a more proportionate way of tackling the problem.

          Not sure I'd be any more happy about having my mobile usage monitored simply because I lived near a prison. Especially if my IMEI then became flagged as 'used by criminals' as a side effect. I'm sure that'd never cause me problems further down the line...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Screw downvotes

          Why not use RF monitors? A bit of triangulation and then every time a mobile phone (including just for wifi) is used an alert is raised and the location pinpointed.

          A decent UNI student could knock a system up as a work experience project.

        3. Smooth Newt Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: Screw downvotes

          IMSI catchers seem to be a more proportionate way of tackling the problem.

          It's a dead end. The best they can hope for with IMSI catchers is to shift inmates towards other radio technologies. After all, a prisoner just needs some form of short range radio link to a telephone connection or confederate just outside of the jail perimeter. But if the authorities really can't control contraband entering prisons, then what are they going to do about the drugs and weapons that must be flowing in too.

      2. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: Screw downvotes

        One of the legitimate concerns raised seems to be about overspill of the jamming interference beyond the area where jamming is required and may be justified. Surely some sort of variant along the lines of sophon-free rooms from Liu Cixin's Death's End would be a better solution with the risk of electrocution for the careless being simply a serendipitous side benefit?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Screw downvotes

        In regard to theaters, as a primary carer for my dad I'd be unable to go to the theater if my phone was blocked as his personal alarm calls me if he has a fall or needs urgent help.

        Minor thing but personally think it's more an issue of cinema staff not wanting to chuck customers out who use their phones.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Screw downvotes

          "Minor thing but personally think it's more an issue of cinema staff not wanting to chuck customers out who use their phones."

          I've been to movies where someone in the audience has continued a very loud, very long converation for 30+ minutes whilst a movie's running.

          If your'e a carer and you're on a break then someone needs to take over the responsibliity. Being on 24*7*365 duty is unfair on everyone.

          1. Truckle The Uncivil

            Re: Screw downvotes

            You are obviously not a parent.

          2. Timmy B Silver badge

            Re: Screw downvotes

            "If your'e a carer and you're on a break then someone needs to take over the responsibliity. Being on 24*7*365 duty is unfair on everyone."

            You clearly don't have any experience of being a carer in Britain today with the almost total lack of state help once caring for somebody becomes your responsibility. You are expected to be on duty 27*7*365, and the rest. Once we battled through the red tape and managed to get some minor respite care we are still needed to be available as the only staff offered by care companies are unable to handle any emergencies.

            And yes, I agree, it is unfair. But what else do you do? Put them in a care home? Have you read reviews and reports of them? Unless you're offering to help some carers out by taking some of the "unfair" burden then simply don't comment on it.

            1. Timmy B Silver badge

              Re: Screw downvotes

              I don't usually complain as my views don't usually flow with the majority here but who the heck actually down-voted my points on in home care? I'd love to see your justification....

          3. Suburban Inmate

            Re: Screw downvotes

            "someone in the audience has continued a very loud, very long converation for 30+ minutes"

            And nobody awarded them a ticking off/facking slap?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

      First of all, most catchers can be very good and very precise jammers. They use a virtually identical hardware and software - a small cell (aka femtocell). You just re-configure it to give a permanent reject. There is even a code which shuts down a phone so hard you need to do a hard reset on it (though in the past some manufacturers failed that test as it is not mandatory in the 3GPP spec).

      The whole affair is the usual "We will not tell you the real reason".

      The real reason is different - up to 3G the network authenticates the phone, but the phone DOES NOT authenticate the network. In 4G the phone will authenticate its home network - it is a 2 way auth if memory serves me right (if the operator has enabled it). As a result, the bog standard IMSI catchers stop working - you can evade them by limiting your phone to 4G only. The catcher now needs to be authorized by the operator and in some cases actively talk to the operator backend systems.

    4. Haku
      Facepalm

      Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

      "Isn't it about time Ofcom arrived in the 21st century and licensed low powered jammers?"

      Yeah sure that'll work, because everyone knows you can make radio waves stop at a specific distance without having to resort to any sort of metal shielding....

      1. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

        "Yeah sure that'll work, because everyone knows you can make radio waves stop at a specific distance without having to resort to any sort of metal shielding."

        A valid point however realistically I dont think it a major issue.

        Ok we have prisons with homes build basically right up to the fence in some areas (Norwich for examle) and in some cases we might not be able to implement this, however for the majority of prisons not in built up areas a few low powered jammers dotted around the prison buildings would suffice.

        Of course, the real way to tackle this would be to stop the phones getting there in the first place... but thats probably harder to achieve.

        1. MonkeyCee

          Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

          "a few low powered jammers dotted around the prison buildings would suffice."

          Based on my limited knowledge and experience, the answer is no, that will not suffice.

          NZ Corrections has some barmy contract for some private company to block mobile signals. Original budget was 20 million plus a million a year to run it. Currently cost ~2 billion, and is about 95% effective (at the cost of ruining mobile around prison sites), meaning that almost all confiscated phones fall into the 5% of phone+sim combinations that work. There are also often spots where you can get a clear signal which are not apparent in a site survey, but are to lags who have a lot of time on their hands.

          Having the telecoms company trace and log/block phones was the more sensible and realistic option, but wasn't done as it would have had a higher running cost.

      2. PTW
        WTF?

        Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

        OK I'll bite...

        If only metal shielding stops radio waves can you explain the tremendous amount of Wi-Fi extenders/repeaters on sale?

        Prisons tend to have very thick walls and very small windows.

        My home femtocell can't get 20 yards past my 9" cavity wall.

        Do you really think I would suggest it was done without a site survey!? And 80% coverage means you only need to check the other 20% of cells reducing the burden on staff.

        But hey it's only a tech site so let us go with, "I can't see it working so there can be no possible way to implement it!" How very inventive and open minded.

        FYI - There were some cheap illegally imported Chinese jammers 10 years ago with a line of site radius of about a 20 yards.

    5. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

      Isn't it about time Ofcom arrived in the 21st century and licensed low powered jammers?

      Such a shame if you need an ambulance in a hurry. Can you estimate how many lives per year your proposal would cost?

      1. PTW
        Childcatcher

        Re: Ambulance

        I think prisons have fixed lines, just a guess. You know the world did function prior to the introduction of the mobile phone. And you're about one step from "Think of the children!"

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Ambulance

          I think prisons have fixed lines, just a guess.

          Prisons have fixed lines and the price per minute is in the pounds range (in addition to them being spied upon even if you decide to call your lawyer or MP).

          So this is as less about control (so that the mafia boss cannot run his family out of jail) and more about revenue assurance. End of the day - for each mafia boss in jail there are 2000+ petty criminals which should pay their fair share to whoever HMP has a revenue sharing agreement with.

          1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            Re: Ambulance

            You're missing the point - the fixed line ensures an ambulance can be called, regardless of jamming. Non-emergency phone cost is a different issue (and should be regulated to the same price as public phone boxes).

        2. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: Ambulance

          I think prisons have fixed lines, just a guess. You know the world did function prior to the introduction of the mobile phone.

          The OP listed more places than just prison. And you picked the only one where it would be expected not to have mobile phone coverage or where use would be prohibited even if turned silent.

        3. Smooth Newt Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: Ambulance

          I think prisons have fixed lines, just a guess. You know the world did function prior to the introduction of the mobile phone. And you're about one step from "Think of the children!"

          I don't know what the figures are now, but in August 2004, 29% of emergency calls to ambulances in central London were by mobile phone (http://publishing.rcseng.ac.uk/doi/pdf/10.1308/003588408X242079).

          And the odds of dying at the scene when the incident is called in by mobile phone are only 77% of the odds of dying at the scene if the call is made on a landline (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22142669). Even if the world did function prior to the introduction of the mobile phone, and indeed the steam engine and the wheel, mobile phones are now critical life saving aids and widely restricting their ability to call the emergency services would certainly result in many needless deaths.

      2. John 110

        Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

        You probably shouldn't be reliant on mobile phone technology for ambulance calls anyway, especially in the house.

        Am I the only person who has a good old fashioned powered-from-the-network plugin phone for emergencies?

        (we need a luddite icon)

        1. Timmy B Silver badge

          Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

          "Am I the only person who has a good old fashioned powered-from-the-network plugin phone for emergencies?"

          Nope. I have one in the cupboard right by the wall socket. Ready in case of power cuts / etc. We care for two elderly parents and may need medical aid at any time. It's not being a luddite - it's being sensible.

      3. VanguardG

        Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

        Seeing as how government seems to think everyone's a criminal anyway, any proposal that would result in more of them dying would be embraced by the powers that be. Its just that pesky problem of keeping enough of us around to keep the tax money coming in that prevents them from having the lot of us killed off in the name of preventing thought crimes.

    6. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Ready for the down votes, but...

      Isn't it about time Ofcom arrived in the 21st century and licensed low powered jammers?

      Wot?! They are - not licensed? I praise my quite, babble-free commute on the train.

      Mine's the one with the jammer in its pocket

  2. Anonymous Blowhard

    Porridge 2017 Script

    Mr. Mackay: Fletcher! What's that large rectangle of tin-foil doing on your wall?

    Norman Stanley Fletcher: Oh that, Mr. Mackay; it's a poster.

    Mr. Mackay: It looks just like a large piece of tin-foil to me.

    Norman Stanley Fletcher: Not at all Mr. Mackay; it's modern art; it's meant to help me reflect on my misguided ways...

    1. 8Ace

      Re: Porridge 2017 Script

      I can't read that without hearing the voices of Ronnie Barker and Fulton MacKay !

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Porridge 2017 Script

        I will step into the soylent green processing tank on the day when I can no longer hear the voices of Ronnie Barker and Fulton Mackay.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Porridge 2017 Script

        "I can't read that without hearing the voices of Ronnie Barker and Fulton MacKay !"

        That's okay, I'm sure they'll do it with Ricky Gervais and Jack Whitehall. Imagine it in their voices instead.

        Oh... I've spoiled it for you. Sorry!

        Ain't I a stinker? (^_^)

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Correction

    "They are used extensively in the US, where law enforcement agencies must apply for a court warrant to use them." should read:

    They are used extensively in the US, where law enforcement agencies are theoretically supposed to apply for a court warrant to use them but generally use them whenever they want to.

  4. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Screw(s) up

    I don't know if I should congratulate the lags or laugh at the screws.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Screw(s) up

      Call me a cynic but if I had to implement a solution like this I'd gently publicise a fictitious, simple way round it to stop people trying to find a more effective method.

      This scheme will work best if people believe it isn't working at all.

      As for blocking mobile phone use, well, that's probably less useful than monitoring it.

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    Two questions:

    Where did they get tin foil from such that they could all use it to block their signals from their own cells?

    How do the mobile phones they have smuggled in get charged?

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      "...How do the mobile phones they have smuggled in get charged?.."

      Nokia 3310. Lasts for the entire duration of their stay... ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They don't use the new fangled phones that last a day, they use the good old fashioned types that last weeks without charge. But when they do need charging, they pull the charging cable out of their arse, plug it into the phone and put 2 fingers in a wall socket.

      Anonymous as I don't want to be found out :)

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I'm going out on a limb here, but I guess they get the foil from the kitchen.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        they get the foil from the kitchen

        Sounds more comfortable than smuggling in a mega roll of kitchen foil the same way the phones arrive...

      2. Lee D Silver badge

        "I'm going out on a limb here, but I guess they get the foil from the kitchen."

        So prisoners are walking out of a kitchen with a concealed metal object, back to their cell, where it's stashed, traded and used and nobody notices?

        This is exactly my point. There's a problem right there.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Having had the misfortune to deal with prison officers I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the majority of these phone, drug and availability of tinfoil problems are down to corrupt prison officers.

      The bruises have faded away, the memory has not.

      There are some evil corrupt bastards in every profession, the prison service has more than its fair share.

      1. Roger Greenwood

        "There are some evil corrupt bastards . ."

        Aren't you being a bit harsh on a very well meaning body of men?

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          "Aren't you being a bit harsh on a very well meaning body of men?"

          I did in fact hear the prison top dog fella admit that some of his screws were corrupt on the radio the other day, when discussing why some prisoners fear for their lives and "self confine" themselves to their cells

        2. Professor Clifton Shallot

          "Aren't you being a bit harsh on a very well meaning body of men?"

          Apparently there aren't as many Porridge fans on here as the earlier posts would suggest.

          Have an upvote from me.

          1. Roger Greenwood

            "Porridge fans"

            We're obviously getting old and less relevant to the yoof of today.

            The line was a bit obscure and UK centric but it was used in many episodes. Thank you for noticing - small victories.

    5. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Where did they get tin foil from such that they could all use it to block their signals from their own cells?

      Most likely it had been used as a wrapper for some illicit drugs that had been passed over the wall.

    6. CRConrad

      Prison phones

      Dunno how they charge them, but here's how they get them.

  6. TwistUrCapBack

    They charge the phones using USB charging leads wich they attach to the playstations that they have on the wing ..

    Apparently

    1. Michael Strorm
      Coat

      PlayStations on the wing- really? I didn't even know they could fly!

  7. Tweetiepooh

    Generally agree about other spaces but

    that would mean you couldn't go to those places if you were on-call and needed to be reached in emergencies. I would understand in some situations but not all. (Even though I think mobile phones are horrid things and I don't have a personal one at all.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Generally agree about other spaces but

      Seconded .

      We're on 24x7 call for my Teenage Daughter to receive a Kidney Transplant .

      Its difficult making life as "normal" as possible for Her without having to avoid places without a phone signal .

      Multiple devices on separate networks to mitigate patchy reception but a jammer does not differenciate .

      1. Halfmad Silver badge

        Re: Generally agree about other spaces but

        I'm the primary carer for my elderly father and he's got an alarm that alerts me if he falls or he can press if he needs urgent help such as confused, lost etc. It sends me his GPS location as well as calling me (I have to answer it) in order for it not to then call other relatives.

        I just find it amazing that we're even considering this tech when the bottom line is theatre staff not chucking people out who are using mobiles and prisoners not being searched and having cells searched frequently.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Generally agree about other spaces but

        Can I just say Good Luck, hope it all goes well.

    2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: Generally agree about other spaces but

      that would mean you couldn't go to those places if you were on-call and needed to be reached in emergencies.

      All the more reason to go those places if you're on call for the IT department then.

  8. Triggerfish

    It took

    several clever people to build one, and one fuckwit to install it.

  9. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Wouldn't it be cheaper...

    ...just to surround the entire gaol in chicken wire?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

      The effectiveness of Faraday cages requires very detailed, careful application (many years ago I worked with TEMPEST kit). I've had my phone in biscuit tins, and in steel filing cabinets, and the thing will still have a signal and ring when a call comes in. Chicken wire's also probably too big a mesh to block a mobile phone signal, due to the ratio of the holes to the wavelength.

      My solution is to lock the convicts in steel shipping containers. That wouldn't stop mobile signals - until I'd had the containers dumped at sea.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

        "Chicken wire's also probably too big a mesh to block a mobile phone signal, due to the ratio of the holes to the wavelength."

        A quick google (which I did before posting my comment) would inform you that the wavelength of a GSM signal is in the order of tens of centimetres.

        IIRC, a mesh is an effective Faraday cage if the gauge is in the order of half a wavelength or smaller. Chicken wire has a gauge typically in the order of tens of millimetres, so very roughly 1/10th of the wavelength, and perfectly adequate.

        I wonder if the 'phone in the tin' works because the tin, rather than acting as a Faraday cage, is in close enough proximity to the phone's aerial to couple to it via inductance and act as an aerial extension? Admittedly, it's a long enough time since I did any proper physics for this to possibly be complete nonsense, but it feels feasible...

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

          It also depends on the conductivity of the mesh, especially the connections between the bits of wire. Chicken wire manufacture is not optomised for high frequency AC conductivity.

          Mobile phones are also really-really good at working with a very weak signal

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

      At the risk of coming over all Daily Mail, wouldn't it be cheaper just to put a round of .303 into the cranium of any offender, by way of a deterrent to others?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

        by way of a deterrent to others?

        The lags haven't been deterred by the threat of "up to" life imprisonment, and even in territories where capital punishment is still used regularly and with gay abandon (like Saudi, or China), it doesn't seem very effective in stopping transgressions.

        On the other hand, in the phone-in-jail context, humiliating corporal punishments might be effective, like supergluing the phone back in its original hiding place, and then force feeding the lag a big curry, whilst all the other inmates watch and jeer.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

          And the extension of slavery to anyone who doesn't have a knighthood

          1. Woza

            Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

            Sensible policies for a happier Britain!

        2. VanguardG

          Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

          Well, one must admit that places like China and Saudi Arabia don't really have objective laws about what behavior constitutes a criminal act worth of death. "Due process" may be limited to ensuring the firing squad's rifles are in working order.

      2. Triggerfish

        Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

        The biggest arguement about a .303 or any other form of death penalty comes down to this.

        How much do you trust; the police, CPS and politicians?

      3. MonkeyCee

        Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

        "wouldn't it be cheaper just to put a round of .303 into the cranium of any offender"

        Of course it would be cheaper. Just lead to a completely different society, and where offence escalation is the norm, so if you catch someone doing something that will get them executed, they'll consider murdering you, since it's not going to make any difference. There's also the small issue that we're all guilty of something.

        It's also a lot cheaper if instead of treating cancer in people over 40, heart disease in those over 50 and pretty much anything over 70, we just give them a big shot of morphine and comfy place to pass on.

        Cost-benefit is not really a good plan when it comes to human life.

        Also deterrents don't work (alas). Or more specifically don't work on those who are getting jailed, as they've already decided violating the moral/ethical/legal rules are OK for a certain situation.

        1. Vic

          Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

          Also deterrents don't work (alas)

          Detterents work fine. It's just that harsh penalties are no deterrent; you need effective detection for that.

          If the penalty for drug-dealing was one month per conviction, but you were *guaranteed* to get caught every time, then one month would be sufficient; the only people who would even consider dealing were those for whom the profit on a single deal is worth the time in prison. And that means wholesalers might sell to wholesalers, but there would be no retail trade...

          Vic.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

            But since you can't have that kind of guarantee (Wanna bet? I just corrupt the guarantor), SOMEONE'S gonna gamble...and get away with it. And with stakes that high, the reward can trump the risk.

            1. Vic

              Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

              But since you can't have that kind of guarantee

              Well done. You completely missed the point.

              What I'm saying is that it is the probability of detection that deters, not the size of the penalty. I'm well aware that you can't make that guarantee in real life, it was merely a way of showing that a small penalty is perfectly effective if that probability is high enough.

              Vic.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Wouldn't it be cheaper...

                And what I'M saying is that at long as the probably isn't 100%, SOMEONE'S gonna gamble. More than likely a significant number of someones. Including those with the means to influence those odds (corrupt the guarantors, like I said) and see it as a worthy investment.

                IOW, the deterrent effect is probably overstated in terms of probability of getting caught. After all, they won't stop crimes of passion (where probability never figures) or sociopaths (who will always plan about getting away with it).

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patent pending

    "Method of covert communications using narrowband infrared"

    Inspired by those reallllllly old IR helis intended for indoor use, and later videosenders which

    alas got trashed when said IR helis crashed across the country.

    Patent it, then sue anyone using it back to the Stone Age.

    Simples :-)

    (nit: might violate a patent or 10 probably owned by Golf Charlie Hotel Quebec and co)

  11. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    ...or build some kind of EMP gun that will fry any unauthorized electronickery (read : smuggled-in phones)?

    1. James 51
      Mushroom

      Along with the lights and heating. Otherwise when they get turned off prisoners know to drop their phone in a bag of crisps quickly. Plus an air burst nuke might be a little over kill for the issue at hand.

      1. TonyJ Silver badge

        "...Plus an air burst nuke might be a little over kill for the issue at hand..."

        Yeah but..."We've solved the overcrowding issue..."

    2. Lotaresco Silver badge

      "or build some kind of EMP gun"

      ITYM HERF gun HTH, HAND.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > ... EMP gun that will fry any unauthorized electronickery ...

      "Oh look, he's fallen over. Guess 'e had the phone too close to 'is ear."

      "Nah, that one 'ad a pacemaker."

      Oops. Maybe EMP guns aren't such a great idea. ;)

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        And what about the guards' radios? Make it hard to coordinate riot control...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A cheaper option in the long run?

    Clad the prison in sheet metal. Bloody effective where I work, get bugger all signal here.

    1. Halfmad Silver badge

      Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

      Or just do random searches one or twice a week rather than going months ?

      Still amazes me how we're looking for a tech solution to basic prison functions - in other words confiscating banned items regularly.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

        I think the issue there is that the people doing the searching are probably the ones who supplied the confiscated items, honestly.

        Personally I'd resolve that by having a set pool of search people large enough to make bribing everybody impossible, who travel around prisons randomly and get paid bonuses for finding contraband and or entry points for the contraband.

        And people are using tinfoil in the direction of these devices to block them? Figure out which way the mobile base station is, and stick them that way. Fin foil it all you want, chaps. Failing that, just stick half a dozen surrounding the prison perimeter.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

          > ... get paid bonuses for finding X

          Tends to cause bribery, corruption ensuring more X is found. Thus more bonuses.

        2. patrickstar

          Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

          If you paid them bonuses for contraband found, I'm sure you'd have them start planting it in no time.

      2. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

        Some kind of mobile detection kit?

        Im not by any means an expert, but there must be some measurable output from a mobile phone that could be detected?

        Dot detectors around the building have a silent alarm go off if a phone is detected - start searching for it.

        The problem isnt that we need to stop them using phones, its that we need to stop them having the phones in the first place.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        tech solution

        "Still amazes me how we're looking for a tech solution to basic prison functions - in other words confiscating banned items regularly."

        I bet you still make the desktop support walk to jobs they could use a "tech solution" for, like remote control

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I bet you still make the desktop support walk.....

          Ah - you have a remote "tech" solution for finding and confiscating physical objects?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

        Still amazes me how we're looking for a tech solution to basic prison functions - in other words confiscating banned items regularly.

        Still amazes me that we have so many prisons, and claims that we need more. Expensive, clearly not much deterrent, and pretty ineffectual in preventing re-offending.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

          "Still amazes me that we have so many prisons, and claims that we need more. Expensive, clearly not much deterrent, and pretty ineffectual in preventing re-offending."

          But it keeps them off the streets. Or would you rather have them looking for YOU next?

          As for increasing the shakedowns, there's also the matter of budgets.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

            But it keeps them off the streets. Or would you rather have them looking for YOU next?

            The problem is that with the lack of jail places in the UK, we don't actually keep them off the streets for very long. At an emotive level, I LIKE the idea of punitive sentences, endless years breaking rocks, cold gruel, regular beatings from savage warders, and cold stone walled cells on Dartmoor. But sadly logic and fact shows that doesn't stop the bastards re-offending when they get out, so all that prison does is act a a bit of a buffer in a system that can also serve as a criminal meeting ground and skills sharing college. And I'm paying for that.

            Certainly there's a lunatic or irredeemable hard core where the only solution is to lock them away forever, and a few whose crime is so heinous that they should forfeit any chance of release, but that's probably a couple of big prison's worth, not the rotating army of perhaps 300,000 regular reoffenders who make up the bulk of the UK's 100,000 prison population.

          2. strum

            Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

            >But it keeps them off the streets

            Where they are replaced by lieutenants.

            Prison doesn't work. It doesn't deter. It doesn't reform. It doesn't protect society.

            It's sad that most commentards are focussing on ways to make life harder for people who already find life hard enough.

            Prison is supposed to prepare criminals for return to society - a society in which phones play a major role. But prisoners' only access to a phone is an expensive, un-private, inconvenient dumb payphone.

            For every gangster who (supposedly) runs his empire with a contraband smartphone, there are a thousand who just want to talk to their kids.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

              "Where they are replaced by lieutenants."

              Then the lieutenants get busted, too. And so on. At some point, the organization gets so disorganized due to lack of leadership they can't function effectively and end up splintering into local hoodlums again instead of organized rackets.

              "Prison is supposed to prepare criminals for return to society - a society in which phones play a major role. But prisoners' only access to a phone is an expensive, un-private, inconvenient dumb payphone."

              Except many prisoners are dead-ends. They were never in society to begin with. And since the UK doesn't believe in capital punishment, not even for the likes of a Bin Laden, there's no outlet for the true rejects.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

        > Or just do random searches one or twice a week rather than going months ?

        Tends to foster corruption.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: A cheaper option in the long run?

          "Tends to foster corruption."

          That may be why you make the pool big. Big enough a pool will likely have an Untouchable that can rat on the rest, keeping everyone honest. Unless you can show a very large body able to be bribed completely down to the last agent...

  13. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Holmes

    Look at the bright side...

    If they're using all their tinfoil for shielding, they aren't using it to cook up heroin.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Look at the bright side...

      So cold turkey in both senses?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: cold turkey

        Comment Of The Week, right there

  14. lukewarmdog

    Chances are, if you can see tinfoil up in a cell, that person has a phone and you should search the cell.

    You could surely make a positive out of this cockup.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Unless, of course, the pillow or a blanket's between the catcher and the tinfoil. Prisoners quickly become experts at lines of sight.

  15. HartyMan

    From what I have been told by prevous guest at HMS SPS Shotts , They charge the phones by hooking them up to the lights. How they do this, I don't know.

  16. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    So to recap:

    invisible stalker installation - f*cked up.

    email redaction - f*cked up.

    Would it be jejune on the strength of this nought-for-two performance to call for a head count to confirm that there are actually any prisoners inside this gaol?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not So

    "They are used extensively in America, where law enforcement agencies must apply for a court warrant to use them."

    They are using the devices without warrants.

  18. Trumpet Winsock

    New Build Houses

    There's a new house being built just around the corner and I noticed that the thermal insulation they are using between the blocks and the traditional red brick outer skin has foil on one side.

    Would this affect mobile phone reception?

  19. Herby
    Joke

    A solution??

    Give the inmates Galaxy 7's and let nature take its course. Sounds like a plan to me!

    I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned this yet!

    No, jammers aren't the solution. Just put a nice loud cell site in the prison and let it do location finding on the cell phones. Shunt the ones INSIDE to a nasty recording. Seems very doable to me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A solution??

      They have. Problem is collateral damage since most jails (or is it gaols) are next to residences, meaning someone living next to a prison could get caught up in it: false accusations and all.

      And this is no joke.

  20. arctic_haze
    Facepalm

    A simple solution

    Unban the phones.

  21. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Faraday

    If only prisons could be surrounded by a high, earthed, metal mesh. Some sort of fence should do the trick.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Faraday

      You'd have to cover overhead, too. Impractical or they'd be using it to prevent air drops.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re.

    Interesting.

    I did wonder why old phones always show up on Ebay and attract high prices.

    In other news, seems that a certain 3G dongle which is now basically useless is *also* being utilized as a "klunge phone" (tm) by simple reprogramming of its embedded Flash chip and a convenient USB power source with the added benefit that IMEI can be "cycled" periodically using a lookup table harvested from similar dead phones known not to be in use.

    I found a hidden serial port in all of mine and it does indeed have the full command set.

    The "hack" is well documented on the dark web.

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