Do you still hesitate in a portable jammer?

SAN FRANCISCO, November 2 – One afternoon in early September, an architect got on his local train and became a vigilante for cell phones. He sat next to a 20-year-old woman whom he said would “bubble” into her phone.

“She used the word” like “all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said architect Andrew, who refused to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pressed a button on a black cigarette-box-sized device. The device emits a strong radio signal that prevents transmission of the Chatterer’s cell phone – and all others within a 30-foot radius.

“She talked on the phone for about 30 seconds before realizing that no one was listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered that he could exercise such power? “Oh, holy Moly! Liberation.”

As the use of mobile phones has increased rapidly and it is difficult to hear half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing group of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cell phone jammer, a device that mobile devices in powerless close.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is increasing and they are sending hundreds of them to the United States each month – which is challenging federal regulators and last week the cellular industry. Buyers include owners of cafes and hairdressing salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters in public transport.

The development leads to a struggle to control airspace within earshot. And the damage is incidental. Insensitive speakers force the defenseless, while jammers not only punish the perpetrator, but also more discreet gossipers.

“If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to hold ourselves back for the benefit of others,” said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. “The cellphone spokesman believes that his rights exceed those of the people around him, and the jammer thinks that his rights are the more important.”

Jamming technology sends out a radio signal that is so strong that phones are overwhelmed and unable to communicate with cell towers. The range varies from a few meters to several meters, and the devices cost between 50 and several hundred dollars. Larger models can be left to create a zone without calls.

The use of jammers is illegal in the United States. The radio frequencies used by the mobile operators are protected as well as those used by television and radio broadcasters.

“I told them: put your phones away, put your phones away, put your phones away,” he said. They ignored him.

Verizon’s investigator was also unsuccessful. “He went to everyone in town and gave them his number and said if they had trouble they should call him immediately,” said the owner. He said he hadn’t used the jammer since.

Of course, it would be more difficult to identify smaller battery-powered jammers, such as those used by angry commuters.

“It is of no interest that these types of devices find a market when mobile customers’ demand for improved cellular coverage is clear and strong,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon. Carriers also raise a public safety problem: jammers could be used by criminals to prevent people from communicating with each other in an emergency.

People who use jammers express some blame for their sabotage, but some clearly have a joke side, along with some nasty cellphone maliciousness. “It’s worth watching these stupid teenagers in the mall as their calls are dropped. Can you hear me now NO! Good, ”a jammer buyer wrote last month in a report on a website called DealExtreme.

Gary, a therapist in Ohio who also refused to give his surname, citing the illegality of the devices, says jamming is necessary to do his job effectively. He conducts group therapy sessions for patients with eating disorders. In one session, a woman’s confession was roughly interrupted.

“She was talking about sexual abuse,” said Gary. “Someone’s cell phone rang and they were talking.”

“There is no etiquette,” he said. “It’s a pandemic.”