Legality of wireless telegraphy equipment
Section 8 of the 2006 Act forbids the installation or use of wireless telegraphy equipment (radio) in the UK mainland Northern Ireland and territorial waters, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, unless an appropriate licence has been obtained from Ofcom, or there are Regulations in force exempting it from the licensing requirements.
Licences are usually granted subject to terms, provisions and limitations, which must be complied with. These may include:
- use only on a certain frequency;
- use only with a certain power and certain level of emission;
- use must not cause undue interference;
- use only within a certain geographical area;
- use only of apparatus which meets specified requirements; and
- access for inspection by Ofcom staff and close down in the event of interference being caused.
The use of any apparatus, whether or not wireless telegraphy apparatus, for the purpose of interfering with any wireless telegraphy, is an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. It is an indictable offence that on conviction in Crown Court carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The courts can also order forfeit of any apparatus used in the commission of the offence.
Jammers are devices which are intended to prevent radio equipment from receiving and transmitting the signals relevant to their function. Use of such devices therefore constitutes the specific offence of causing deliberate interference. Many radio applications can be the target of such devices, including TETRA communications systems, 2.4GHz radio Local Area Networks and GPS systems, but the most common targets are mobile phones. By transmitting signals on the frequencies at which GSM and UMTS operations are conducted, mobile phone jammers make it impossible for a handset located within their range of action to make or receive calls and messages.
Often targeted for use in such areas as theatres, cinemas, examination halls and libraries where the use of mobile phones can prove annoying, jammers are likely to affect wider areas and other frequencies than those they are intended for. They can also result in the disruption of emergency and rescue radio services in the public area.
Jammers are also subject to the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive (EMC) Directive EC89/336 as amended, which has been implemented into UK law by the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2006 (Sl 2006/3418). These regulations specify that all electrical and electronic apparatus placed on the market or taken into service in the UK, including imports, satisfy specific requirements to ensure that they do not cause excessive electromagnetic interference or are adversely affected by it and have to carry the CE mark to show compliance. The European Commission supports Members States’ views that since jammers by their nature cause significant electromagnetic interference it is likely that most do not comply with the UK regulations and therefore they cannot be legally placed on the UK market. The maximum penalty for supplying non-compliant equipment under the regulations is a fine of up to £5,000. The courts can order forfeiture of stocks of equipment. Ofcom will take appropriate enforcement action, including prosecution, to enforce the above legal provisions.
Alternatives to jammers
It is understandable that the owners of theatres, cinemas, concert halls, restaurants etc may want to restrict the use of mobile phones within their premises but jamming is an inappropriate means of achieving this. The alternative, legal way to do this is by education and publicity in informing users to keep mobile phones switched off when requested to do so. This may be assisted by the use of cellphone detectors at entrances that, without transmitting any interfering signal, give visible and/or audible warnings if an active device is nearby.