Powerful interests may be behind 5,000 cellphone jamming devices

Posted: February 2, 2010 in philippine elections
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The other day, the Comelec announced that it was concerned about the reported entry of some 5,000 cell phone jamming devices into the country. It was not revealed who ordered the jamming devices. The Bureau of Customs has announced that it was sending its intelligence agents to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, we continue to get assurances from both the Comelec and Smartmatic that contingencies are in place to thwart attempts to disrupt the transmission of election results. The election results from precinct to municipal canvassers and to the central servers will be done via cell sites from the different telcos. The jamming device can hamper the transmission of election results, probably long enough for fraud to happen.

Not many people can afford such a huge shipment of cellphone jamming devices. At $300 per piece, 5,000 pieces would amount to $1.5 million or some P69 million. At $200 a unit, that would be some $1 million for 5,000 units. That’s a huge amount of money.

I read somewhere that the cheapest hand-held jamming device can be as low as $79. Still, you’ll need some P18 million to buy 5,000 units.

Who would have the means and motive to make such a procurement? Probably one who has a lot of money and would want to undertake massive cheating or push the failure of elections.

The Bureau of Customs and the National Telecommunications Commission should probe all possible buyers, even those coming from government. The magnitude of the procurement seem to indicate that the buyer may not simply be a private entity. The BoC and NTC must probe even government agencies who may have an interest in acquiring these devices, including the police and military.

A professional handheld jamming device can block cellphone signals as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth transmission for up to 20 meters, or just about the area of a polling precinct.

The Bureau of Customs said it would be difficult to detect these hand-held devices because they’re small. True, if you’re talking of just one unit. But it’s probably hard to miss 5,00o units.

With the threat of cellphone jammers now entering the picture, the Comelec and Smartmatic may not have enough transmission options on election day.

Comelec Director James Jimenez admitted in a voters education forum at the House of Representatives yesterday that Smartmatic has only procured 5,000 Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) satellite devices. These will be used as an option in case transmission of election results through cell sites fails . As in one Comelec field test, failure to transmit results through GSM will mean that a satellite device will be used.

The 5,000 BGAN devices may not be enough to thwart a massive attack on the system by cellphone jammers. It is also not clear at this point how Comelec and Smartmatic will address this serious security threat which aims to hamper the transmission of election results.

Comelec and Smartmatic will not only deal with inherently weak cell signals, but also with parties that are out to disable the transmission of election results via jamming. The dangers of fraud now loom large in the horizon.

Jimenez said at the forum that Smartmatic is trying to procure additional satellite devices in time for election day. There are some 80,000 polling precincts that will use the new automated election system.

Here’s a shopping guide for cell phone jamming devices.


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