Johannesburg – Parliament’s controversial cell phone jammer could have struggled to deter even a toy drone from not worrying a military, experts say.
State Security Agency (SSA) has been cited as responsible for placing the jammer in parliament during President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation (SONA) speech following outcry from opposition parties and the media.
Responding to the controversy over signal jamming, State Security Minister David Mahlobo said on Wednesday “that there was no political or executive decision to hinder the free flow of information. “. support the efforts of the SANDF (South African National Defense Force) to enforce the security of airspace. ”
Mahlobo then referred to a statement by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) on February 11, a day before SONA, which said that there was a no-fly zone above parliament.
Mahlobo’s statement also mentioned drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
“The airspace security plan has also been approved to provide security measures against low speed and low energy threats as well as drones with minimal disruption to commercial aviation and related aspects”, a said Mahlobo.
Mahlobo’s comments on drones were reported on Thursday
“There are unmanned machines [drones] that fly everywhere and can kill people,” said Mahlobo.
“The example of how the United States has successfully tracked Osama bin Laden and it continues to do so. Some of them are flying above and below the radar,” he said. .
However, drone enthusiasts are questioning the effectiveness of a signal jammer against any type of unmanned aerial vehicle.
Schalk Heunis, who runs Pretoria’s 4 Hack House – an initiative to bring together tech specialists – told Fin24 that a drone jammer could be ineffective, even against the most basic unmanned aerial vehicles.
Heunis, who builds quadcopters as a hobby, said these unmanned aerial vehicles can be programmed to fly independently, which means they don’t need a signal to operate.
“Once you take off and put your mission there, this operation completes the mission, it does not need a control signal,” Heunis told Fin24.
In addition, even basic unmanned aerial vehicles have the ability to switch between frequencies, making a signal jammer unnecessary.
“It is very difficult to scramble the entire radio frequency, like the entire spectrum,” said Heunis.
Riaan Huysamen of Skypixels.co.za, who specializes in taking photos of RC Multi-Rotor Model aircraft, explained to Fin24 that the devices used by his company do not subscribe to the definition of “drone” as as such. But Huysamen said he has knowledge of signal technology that affects even basic unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Controlled radios these days have what is called frequency hopping because they know there are so many people using radio controlled drones,” Huysamen told Fin24.
“These things have what’s called frequency hopping, so they can’t be hijacked or blocked in this regard because you don’t want the device to get out of control and you have public safety issues “.
Huysamen also said that it appears that Mahlobo is talking about army-controlled drones, which Huysamen says are even more immune to signal jammers, as they depend on the satellite to be directed.
In the meantime, it is unclear which brand of signal blocker was used in Parliament, while the exact reasons for its use are not entirely clear either.
However, a departmental investigation is underway by state security officials while President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) have described the signal jammer incident as unfortunate.