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Prisons to get power to remotely pull plug on illicit mobile phones

The Home Office is to give prisons in the UK new powers to cut off illicit use of mobile phones by inmates

The government has announced plans to clamp down on the illicit and illegal use of mobile phone technology by prisoners.

According to the Home Office, nearly 15,000 mobile phones and SIM cards were seized in British prisons last year.

The use of mobile technology is a concern for the prison authorities because inmates use covert mobile phones to continue to run criminal activities from behind bars. Mobile phone use by prisoners has been a factor in numerous high-profile cases, including drug dealing and gun running.

Up to now, the prison authorities and police have had limited options to deal with the problem. They have had to rely on physical searches to recover handsets or resort to expensive mobile phone blocking technology, which, as revealed earlier in 2016, may impact legitimate network use in the vicinity of prisons.

Under the 2015 Serious Crime Act, prison staff or the police will now be able to cut off mobile phones remotely if they can produce evidence that a given number is being used illicitly, although the government did not disclose how such evidence would be obtained.

Remote cut-off

They will then be able to apply for a telecoms restriction order (TRO), which will instruct mobile network operators to blacklist the phone remotely, rendering it useless.

“Criminals are locked up to protect communities from their actions, so it is totally unacceptable for them to continue their life of crime behind bars,” said security minister Ben Wallace.

“Telecommunications restriction orders will give us the power to disconnect the phones prisoners use to continue orchestrating serious crimes while in jail. This government will act wherever necessary to cut crime and keep our communities safe, and to restore the public trust that is so vital to our justice system.”

TRO monitoring

The powers will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, which will monitor the ongoing effectiveness of TROs based on numbers issued and how many phones are disconnected as a result.

The government said that TROs would support its commitment to drive down crimes orchestrated from within the UK’s prisons. It suggested the new practice would be more effective because its implementation does not necessarily depend on locating the physical handset.

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