NYPD to Jam Cellphones

I’m sure terrorists would totally not ever realize police have this capability and switch to different technology. Kind of like how they keep hijacking planes even though that clearly won’t work anymore.

For situations where they have someone surrounded it’s not a bad idea, just like cutting power and phone lines, but the terrorism angle is ludicrous.

Fucking shoot everyone at McDonalds so as to reduce heart disease in Manhattan, right?

Alternative technologies may be less attractive to terrorists.

Consider a 2-way radio:

  1. Somewhat harder to obtain
  2. Harder to use
  3. Much more limited range. A cell phone can easily connect to a controller in say, Pakistan. I would imagine that a 2 way radio would be much harder to connect from NYC to a distant point like that
  4. Still jammable by law enforcement, I would assume. Note the line from the original article: “law enforcement needs to find ways to disrupt cell phones and other communications in a pinpointed way against terrorists who are using them” [emphasis added].


Are you guys seriously making the argument that when terrorists use a given technology to significant effect in a successful attack, that law enforcement should not react and take steps to reduce the effectiveness of that technology for terrorists in the future? Or are you just arguing for the sake of arguing?

Yeah, if the terrorists are four years old. I know it’s cool to assume that people who do bad things are defective in every way, but it’s probably not too helpful to assume that terrorists don’t know how to obtain and operate devices roughly as complex as an Xbox Live headset.

  1. Much more limited range. A cell phone can easily connect to a controller in say, Pakistan. I would imagine that a 2 way radio would be much harder to connect from NYC to a distant point like that

You’re right; it’s difficult (though not impossible) to set up two-way radios to work over that kind of distance. What’s less difficult is giving instructions to people via cell phone and having them use two-ways for communication once the event starts.

  1. Still jammable by law enforcement, I would assume

Yeah, well that’s part of my point… it’s possible to jam any radio frequency, but for this device to be effective, it would have to be able to jam every radio frequency.

Are you guys seriously making the argument that when terrorists use a given technology to significant effect in a successful attack, that law enforcement should not react and take steps to reduce the effectiveness of that technology for terrorists in the future? Or are you just arguing for the sake of arguing?

The argument I’m making is this: the lengths we go to to prevent bad things from happening should be determined by how likely the bad thing is to happen and how bad it will be if it does happen. So we should do what we reasonably can to prevent terror attacks, but engineering and deploying this machine isn’t really reasonable. It would be time-consuming and expensive, it would require a lot of bureaucratic re-working of the regulations at the FCC (which, despite what a big joke you seem to think they are, are actually pretty vital laws for the operation of literally every single radio network in this country, and the consequences of breaking them can sometimes be serious in both legal and real terms), and there’s no guarantee that it will work until it works on all frequencies, which only adds to the expense in both time and money, all to ward off an event that has a very low likelihood of happening even one time, let alone enough times to make it worthwhile.

I’m just repeating what Bruce Schneier says, really: if you focus on counteracting individual specific movie-script tactics as the opponent uses them, you waste time and money better spent elsewhere. Stopping terrorists by jamming cellphones (and just cellphones! I could least understand trying to do broad-spectrum at least; that might actually make it somewhat difficult for the opponent) is like inspecting people’s shoes in terms of pointlessness.

Reviewing the article closer, they say they don’t know if the NYPD actually wants to shut down localized communications (makes sense, albeit very difficult to block all channels) or large areas of Manhattan (?)

To summarize: the Mumbai terrorists were effective because the response to them was a complete joke, not because they had cell phones.

On a side note, there must be something about working for the government in a security capacity that makes you an idiot about FISA:

The NYPD has also been at odds with the Justice Department over its attempt to get the federal government to loosen up a law governing electronic surveillance. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrants must be obtained to begin electronic monitoring of terror suspects, and the requests go through a multi-layered vetting process by the FBI and the Justice Department. Kelly is asking for these agencies to expedite NYPD’s requests to be able to combat fast-moving terror situations.

FISA details

If a United States person is involved, judicial authorization was required within 72 hours after surveillance begins.

You have a three-day free shot, you morons! Fucking shits just don’t want any constraints at all.

I dunno, maybe crack down on drunk driving? Do a better job finding illegal guns to nip gun crime in the bud? Or hey, maybe nothing? After all, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly isn’t going to be building this in his basement in his spare time. This is something he’s asking the government to pony up for, which means it has to make sense in the big picture, not just among the spectrum of things the NYPD could maybe do.

By forcing them to switch to non-optimal technologies, it’s already done its job. It’s, you know, an ounce of prevention. Other options are shorter range, more expensive and less secure. They’re also more likely to be vulnerable to standard police techniques, yeah?

Of all the anti-terror thingies done over the past few years, this is the only one that seems like, yeah, it could work.

edit: More importantly, it’s something that could also be used by allies, unlike goofy techniques.

No. They’re arguing that spending money on broader-use things like intelligence and more general tactics is often a better way to spend our time than adding specific narrow restrictions to help prevent attacks that already happened.

In other words, the aim is to play for where the ball’s going to be, not where it was last week.

Sometimes it does make sense to fight against specific tactics so they can’t be re-used, but that can’t ever be our only strategy. As 'bags pointed out, the terrorists aren’t stupid. They know the rules too.

Also, this whole “if you aren’t in favor of this specific tactic you must not want to fight terrorism” thing you’re doing isn’t helping your argument at all. “You’re either with us or against us” is pretty played out by now.

The point Phil, is that law enforcement always ends up using their emergency devices and techniques for increasingly piddly shit. If it came down to losing civil rights or having a lot of people die, I would rather that the people die.

That being said, it is probably fine to stop coconspirators from communicating to each other while they are engaged in the commission of felonies that endanger human life through technological means. I say that because it’s legal to stop them with deadly force, and this is a less invasive method.

The danger is that police will turn on a jamming device before they engage in large scale police brutality so that it cannot be captured and transmitted by cellphone cameras. The beauty of the cellphone camera is that the footage is almost instantly beyond the reach of officers attempting to destroy evidence of police misconduct.

And if it came down to choosing between the right of people to protest without fear of police brutality or a lot of innocent people dying in an attack? Goodbye, hypothetical hostages, it was nice imagining you.

For those of you questioning the plausibility of this scenario, it’s worth noting that U.S. produced law enforcement devices are often sold to regimens that put them to more questionable uses.

Fair enough.

So, as for likely, does the use of cell phones (successfully, it would seem) in a massive terrorist attack ~2 months ago make it likely or unlikely that terrorists might use something similar in an attack in the future?

Sources for technical difficulty?

Sources for use of such a thing being even currently illegal?

Source for difficulty of changing the law if it is in fact illegal?

There’s no guarantee that any counter-terrorism measure will work. Are you contending that anti-terrorism devices that are <100% effective are not worthwhile?

Terrorist used cell phones 2 months ago!!! How many times does that need to be repeated? Is it really unlikely that a large scale terrorist operation in the future might use cell phones (or 2-way radios, FWIW)?

Oh noes! Terrorist used phones! Everybody, get rid of your cellphones! They have demons in them! And for God’s sake, get away from the cans! He hates these cans!

If you’re gonna try to use links to buttress your argument, link to something where they actually said something supporting your argument, not to their bio.

Stop a potential terrorist communication method in a coordinated attack? Yeah, that would be a waste of time and money.

You do know that the Mumbai attack was not a movie or a movie script, right?

From the original article:
“When lives are at stake, law enforcement needs to find ways to disrupt cell phones and other communications in a pinpointed way against terrorists who are using them.” [emphasis added]

It’s bad enough when you don’t click through and read the original article. But I quoted the above in post #23. That’s only 2 posts above your post. It’s in the same post of mine that you quoted!

Reading comprehension = FAIL

Oh, so you did read the original article?

But I don’t see where you’re reading some kind of uncertainty in there. The quote from the NYPD guy mentions disrupting cell phones and other communications (so, more than just cell phones), in a “pinpointed way”, which doesn’t really imply large areas of Manhattan. Are you reading a different article?

Well I’m glad you’ve digested the full post-Mumbai analysis report detailing the attack and response and come to detailed conclusions about all the shortcomings. You should write up a report and send it to the NYPD, because apparently they’ve come to different conclusions. With your vast blog reading experience, you could really set them straight. As long as our police are not a complete joke, we can let terrorists communicate freely with no means to disrupt such communication. Right-o.

Forcing them to switch to non-optimal strategies is certainly part of it. Though I think that understates the advantages.

As mentioned multiple times, the discussion is about jamming a variety of communications devices, not just cell phones. I don’t know whether the NYPD would be able to jam 100% of all short range comm. devices, 90%, 5%, or 0%, but then, neither do potential terrorists. That’s a good thing.

While we shouldn’t assume that terrorists are idiots, we also shouldn’t assume that they are all super intelligent techno-geniuses either. Terrorist attacks run a gamut of sophistication, from crude to advanced.

Hardening up in areas that terrorists have exploited in the past or could easily do so in the future is a good thing, even if it is at least possible that some terrorists could avoid the hardened stuff, albeit with sub-optimal approaches.

I just don’t know why you didn’t react similarly when guns continued their streak of killing nearly three times as many Americans per year as have ever died in a terrorist attack.

For fucks sake, you are acting like they killed them with their cellphones, as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, a bunch of fucking automatic weapons?

But have fun dreaming up ways to unintentionally disable every pacemaker in a six mile radius.

Oh, and my statistic only covers murder, not accidental deaths or the roughly sixty-eight percent of suicides where a gun was used, so don’t bother playing a numbers game, because I made sure to keep some extra numbers handy to slap on to the figures.

Flowers, is it really so hard for you to understand that there are multiple elements to a terrorist attack, and that taking reasonable steps to prevent use of proven elements in the future is, umm, a pretty sensible way of reducing (not eliminating) the likelihood of successful future attacks?

Do you lock the doors on your house or your car? You know that’s not 100%, right?

Also, I am well aware that there are other problems in the US besides terrorism, and that conventional non-terrorist violence (gun-driven or not) is one of them. What’s your point? I’d like to see less drunk driving too - should we bring that into this discussion? Also, Super Mario Brothers on SNES is really good, and I’m thinking about watching the start of the new 24 season tomorrow - any thoughts?

Do you really think the chance to save fifteen or twenty people from something that may or may not happen several years from now is worth the civil liberties of millions of Americans? Because I don’t. You are talking about creating a device that would make it easier for police to keep people from documenting and transmitting evidence of police brutality. As police brutality is something that does happen every day in the United States, and terrorist attacks are something that only happen every several years, I prefer to address the larger concern of civil liberties for all Americans, as opposed to the hypothetical saving of stipulated people.

To sum it up, I think you are being a giant sissy, and you are giving up your liberties to feel safe from a threat that will probably never, ever come anywhere near you. I use my civil liberties, and I was raised to believe in the United States Constitution, and the lessons of the founding fathers, and I’m not even going to bother with the quote that you can probably feel coming.

You want to know how to discourage terrorist attacks? Tell Israel to go fuck itself.

Umm, where’s the civil liberty infraction again?

Terrorists attack, police have capability to turn off communications in a pinpointed area.

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe I need some fancy legal-talkin’ to tell me how that’s some kind of civil liberties violation.

Well, you don’t have to be a lawyer, but it would help if you weren’t pretending to be obtuse. I will put it to you thusly;

If you have to ask, you will never know.

Tell you what RainbowSix, in the alternative, why don’t you crack open that imagination you seem so eager to use when it’s time to dream up terror scenarios, and think about how it might be bad for police officers to be able to stop people from using their phones?

Oh, now that is AWESOME.


Flowers says a bunch of idiotic stuff.

I in turn refute it.

Flowers tries to change the subject multiple times (never mind what I said about cellphones in terrorist attacks, let’s talk about gun violence in conventional crimes instead!)

That tack doesn’t seem to work, so Flowers waves hand and makes civil liberties claim.

When challenged - oh, well, it’s much too sophisticated an argument for the likes of YOU…

Flowers, you’re a lawyer right? Does this kind of stuff work with juries? That would explain a lot…