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Chicagoan Arrested For Using Cell-phone Jammer To Make Subway Commute Tolerable (chicagotribune.com) 518

McGruber writes with this story from the Chicago Tribune: Last Fall, certified public accountant Dennis Nicholl boarded a Chicago subway train while carrying a plastic bag of Old Style beer. Nicholl popped open a beer and looked around the car, scowling as he saw another rider talking on a cellphone. He pulled out a black device from his pocket and switched it on. Commuters who had been talking on their phones went silent, checking their screens for the source of their dropped calls. On Tuesday, undercover officers arrested Nicholl. Cook County prosecutors and Chicago police allege he created his own personal 'quiet car' on the subway by using an illegal device he imported from China. He was charged with unlawful interference with a public utility, a felony. This is not the first time Nicholl has been charged with jamming cell calls. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in June 2009, according to court records. He was placed under court supervision for a year, and his equipment was confiscated and destroyed.
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Chicagoan Arrested For Using Cell-phone Jammer To Make Subway Commute Tolerable

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's a Techdirt headline.

  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fonos ( 847221 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @09:48AM (#51676905)

    He's lucky there wasn't an emergency and that his device did not interfere with a 911 call. This is reckless behavior, and he already knew the seriousness of this crime because of the prior conviction.

    By the way, are you allowed to have a beer on the Chicago public transit? If so, that's fantastic!

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:00AM (#51676961)

      Chicagoan here - technically no booze allowed on the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) run vehicles which this guy was on, but I've never seen it enforced. You can drink to your hearts content on the Metra though, which heads out to the Chicago burbs, and is owned by the same parent organization as the CTA.

      • You can drink to your hearts content on the Metra though, which heads out to the Chicago burbs

        Wow, I thought New Orleans was about the only place left in the US that didn't have open container laws, where you can drink in public.

        Do they in Chicago also have "to go" cups so you can take your drink with you out of the bars? Drive through daiquiri shops?

      • Chicagoan here - technically no booze allowed on the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA)

        Have you ever taken the Red Line to a Cubs game?

    • By the way, are you allowed to have a beer on the Chicago public transit? If so, that's fantastic!

      No, it isn't If we need any fucking "blockers" in public transport, it's beer blockers.

    • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:14AM (#51677051) Journal

      He's lucky there wasn't an emergency and that his device did not interfere with a 911 call.

      I guess I was just lucky to survive the dark ages before mobiles existed and someone would have had to get the train to stop in the next station before calling for help. Yes this guy was being an idiot but lets not blow things out of proportion: life was indeed possible before the cell phone was invented and it was not significantly more dangerous.

      • I was about to make the exact same post but you beat me to it.

        I get annoyed on the train as well. Usually though, most people are pretty reserved in the morning and it is nice and quiet. Any other time I have to listen to music or netcasts to block out the inane jabber.

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:29AM (#51677153)

        I guess I was just lucky to survive the dark ages before mobiles existed

        And more people died back then (unpreventably) due to this, so it is an irrelevent point.

        If someone could call for help and get assistance faster (greater chance of surviving), and you interfere with this, then you become liable for their death, and if you did it with knowledge and/or intent, or a legal equivalent (such as reckless negligence), then criminally liable.

        • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

          by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @11:07AM (#51677447) Journal
          Yes but how many? None of us walked around feeling insecure because 911 wasn't a keypress away. I would say a lot has been lost, like the ability to plan outings with family and friends or use a map. In fact there has been studies that have shown a general reduction of executive function in the population.
      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:41AM (#51677249) Homepage Journal

        Modern technologies, even comm technologies, have made some dangers (like heart attacks) significantly less dangerous. We've built a better world, and just because people survived the old doesn't mean that we should permit people to recreate those older dangers.

      • I'm with you. While jammers are not optimal, to equate their use to risking everyone's life because 911 isn't immediately available is a stretch and mostly disingenuous.

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:16AM (#51677057)

      911 calls from cell phones on public transit are relatively rare. But many of us use the data links on our smart phones to check our schedules for connections for other buses or for trains. Many of us in high demand work also respond to text based alerts during lengthy commutes. We're not loud, we're not speaking on the cell phones, and it's much safer to do this on public transit than it is to drive home and have to pull off the road to handle an alert. So it sounds like he's interfering with people who are being responsible and safe, as well as those who are rude.

      • by SumDog ( 466607 )

        For the money he put into that device, he could have just bought a nice set of headphones and a music player. That's what I do. Every morning, weather I catch the tram or bus, I almost always have my headphones in while reading either the news or a book on my phone. It's a great way of tuning out the rest of the world.

        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          But this is an egotistic asshole that likes to feel in control so that isn't an alternative.

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      No, you aren't allowed to drink or eat anything on the CTA, let alone alcohol. I'm surprised he didn't get arrested for public drinking.
  • No good guys. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @09:49AM (#51676915)

    There are no good guys in this story. He's a dick for blocking other people's services. The government are being ridiculous in charging him with felonies and holding hundreds of thousands in fines over his head, and people having loud animated conversations on their cell phones in crowded public spaces are rude.

    If he did what he is accused of then he is guilty of disturbing the peace. He should be punished accordingly. He's not guilty of intercepting people's cell calls and recording their conversations with a sting-ray device. He didn't bring down the local power sub-station. He did the equivalent of loudly disrupting a public meeting. Proportionality is an important concept, and we've lost track of it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:08AM (#51677027)

      But he was blocking the use of a sting-ray device, so they threw the book at him.

    • Re:No good guys. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:11AM (#51677037) Journal
      The only thing I would add is that if all Mr Nicholl wanted to do was silence the cellphones, he could've left the jammer in the bag.

      Bringing it into plain view ratchets it up a notch to, "I am making a point here. Look at me!"

      • This is what I was thinking as well.

        Although, it would only have increased the time until he was caught if he used it regularly.

        I recall hearing a story about a guy who had one of these devices in his car and kept it on all the time, creating a bubble as he drove down the freeway.

        They caught him because a pattern could be established (he took the same route at the same time every day).

      • If he didn't want to hear the cellphones, he could have gotten a good pair of noise canceling headphones and put on some music. It would block out the sounds of other people talking on the phone without breaking any laws. As it was, he was upset that people's actions (talking on the phone) were affecting him so he took an action (using a jammer) that affected others (not just the ones talking on the phone, but anyone using a cell phone even in a quiet manner).

      • The only thing I would add is that if all Mr Nicholl wanted to do was silence the cellphones, he could've left the jammer in the bag.

        Yeah, that's it. It really sounds like he got busted for being a dick.

    • and people having loud animated conversations on their cell phones in crowded public spaces are rude.

      I never got this. If two people are sat on the bus/train whatever and having a chat, no one gives a shit, remove one of the people and half the conversation and people are suddenly put out by it.

      • Re:No good guys. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:30AM (#51677159)

        Actually, it depends on how loud the chat is.

        I get annoyed at loud conversation all the time. Of course, I hate people so...

        • Actually, it depends on how loud the chat is.

          I get annoyed at loud conversation all the time. Of course, I hate people so...

          That's by the by, why is half a conversation more annoying than a full one you're not listening to anyway? (By the way I agree with you, life would be better if everyone else would just fuck off)

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by eam ( 192101 )

            I wonder if the half conversations via cell-phones are inherently louder due to less than perfect transmission. I witness people communicating effectively in person while whispering, but I can't imagine being able to be heard while whispering over a cell connection.

            However, if you want to see what researchers found, I located an article:

            http://healthland.time.com/201... [time.com]

      • Re:No good guys. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:50AM (#51677321)

        remove one of the people and half the conversation and people are suddenly put out by it.

        Correct. Many people find half a conversation to be very annoying, as their brain is distracted by trying to "fill in" the other half. Psychologists have studied the phenomena, and some comedians exploit it (Bob Newhart [wikipedia.org] was a famous example).

        Other people (including me) are not bothered by it. I find it easy to tune out other people, sometimes even when they are talking directly to me. My wife can confirm this.

      • by xvan ( 2935999 )
        Public transport is noisy. When you talk with another person you get constant visual feedback to adjust your voice to the right volume. When you talk by phone, you loose that feedback. If YOU don't listen because of the noise, the natural reaction is to talk louder.
      • Firstly, I've found that people tend to talk louder when they are on the phone. Maybe it's because there is no feedback to adjust their speaking volume. Almost everyone on the phone on the bus is loud while many people having a conversation together speak in a lowered voice.

        Secondly, it's harder to ignore half a conversation. http://www.scientificamerican.... [scientificamerican.com]

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )

        Human brains are wired to follow a conversation (hence humans frequently participating in them). When one only hears half a conversation, the absence of a second party is actively noticeable by those listening (or accidentally overhearing) the conversation. Also, phone calls will tend to make people talk louder (than they would to their friend sat next to them), which increases the already-disturbing half-conversation. I can understand why you'd think it would logically be little or no different, but it'

    • There are no good guys in this story.

      Except the guy blocking the douchebag callers. Oh, and if he carried a baseball bat to break the kneecaps of anyone putting their feet up on the seats, I'd nominate him for a fucking sainthood.

      As a regular rail communter, I'm only like 0.5% kidding here.

    • Re:No good guys. (Score:4, Informative)

      by plover ( 150551 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:23AM (#51677107) Homepage Journal

      The flaw with that argument is there is no way to predict the urgency of the other communications trying to use the frequencies being jammed during the time of the jamming. Pacemakers automatically call 9-1-1 in the event of heart failure; a crime victim could be calling the police. Those people have a licensed device and they have the right to use the airwaves according to the terms of the license.

      This is not new, this is not some recent "loss of proportionality". The FCC's stance was published at the advent of radio telecommunications, long before cell phones existed, and has been very, very consistent for at least 80 years: the airwaves are a shared resource, and cooperation is vital to their ongoing utility; you will not deliberately deny others their licensed use of their frequencies, or Uncle Charlie will come down with his Very Big Hammer. And the hammer has always been big: 40 years ago the max fines were in the $10,000 range. Not even the Secret Service has official permission to jam frequencies around the president (although I suspect they have the equipment at the ready.)

    • The one quibble I have with this case is the charge they levied against him: "interfering with a public utility". Cellular service isn't much of a utility if you ask me, because they don't treat it like one. For one thing, there's multiple providers (utilities are usually monopolies), and for another, there's almost no regulation, or else we'd have inexpensive cell service like they have over in Europe where supposedly the cost of living is so much higher.

      Personally, I think they should let the guy off an

    • Proportionality is an important concept, and we've lost track of it.

      And a long long time ago, when all was right in the world we "lost track of it". Jamming of communications has been illegal just about since radio communications existed. And the F.C.C. takes it very very seriously.

      As for the proportionality of it, his penalty is just what you get when you get caught jamming with no public harm. Add people harmed, and you end up with a lot more trouble for your jamming.

      Proportionality? This doesn't just inconvenience some mass transit riders, it can cut service to ever

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      ...and people having loud animated conversations on their cell phones in crowded public spaces are rude.

      Serious question here: What exactly makes that rude? Are people equally rude if the person they are having the conversation with happens to be present, rather than on the other end of a phone?

      I actually don't like phones (although I love having a portable internet connection). However, conversations, up to a certain (very high) volume, seem to be considered perfectly acceptable on public transit, even though I often find them even more distracting. If those are OK, why is it bad when you physically remov

    • He is guilty of intentionally causing interference on multiple licensed frequencies. If people were also breaking laws disturbing the beach etc sure get them but I doubt it noise laws are pretty lenient.

      Really if they guy can not stand other people he should get out the the cesspools that are cities.

    • No, he did this a bunch of times before. Now he gets fines and jail time for repeated dickery. This is how we deal with rich people who go "oh a fine lol ok yeah sure go away."

    • Re:No good guys. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jahoda ( 2715225 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @11:24AM (#51677563) Homepage
      "There are no good guys in this story"? WT actual F logic is this? Excuse me, sir, but I don't want some baby-boomer rageoholic, upset that the world doesn't work the way *he* wants it to in the train car he shares with others, buying crappy Chinese electronics and interfering with my ability to use my technology. It is impossible to not know that these devices are illegal and prohibited by the FCC, and he's been arrested for it before. The first time, he got a slap on the wrist. Now, he gets the felony. This is how this shit works. "No good guys in the story". SMH.
  • by JanneM ( 7445 )

    Didn't realize drinking beer in US subways is according to the rules. Wouldn't want a self-styled vigilante grab your beer and pour it all over you or something, now would we?

  • RF leakage (Score:2, Interesting)

    by emj ( 15659 )

    Well he is probably blocking calls not just in the subway but allround, at least in the NYC there are not that many basestations in the subways. There is data about this on RF spotting site: http://subspotting.nyc/ [subspotting.nyc]

  • In Japan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pikoro ( 844299 ) <initNO@SPAMinit.sh> on Friday March 11, 2016 @09:55AM (#51676931) Homepage Journal

    People just don't talk on their phones in the trains excepting the actual emergency call. It's considered rude and people respect that. Too bad people in the USA can't think of others before their own selfish needs. This would be a non-issue if people were actually polite. Hell, people who kill themselves in Japan actually have the courtesy to take their shoes off before jumping in front of a train so others will know it's intentional and not an accident. Thinking of others until the end.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Flavianoep ( 1404029 )

      Hell, people who kill themselves in Japan actually have the courtesy to take their shoes off before jumping in front of a train so others will know it's intentional and not an accident. Thinking of others until the end.

      People in the US are more likely to have the courtesy of not suiciding at all.

    • by dfn5 ( 524972 )

      This would be a non-issue if people were actually polite.

      "Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker's God given right"
      - Mayor Lenny

      • I know it's a quote, but having grown up there although people are in a rush they are quick to help out if you ask for it. It's the people from the outer boroughs (think jersey shore show) you want to avoid.
  • dipshit (Score:5, Funny)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:01AM (#51676967) Journal

    ....for taking it out to flip a stupid switch.
    Smart would have been to be on a call himself, and meanwhile in his pocket flip the switch, then act all annoyed and pissed like everyone else.

    BTW where could I buy one?

  • Since he had already been arrested before, he was well aware of the consequences of getting caught. So why take out the device. Keep it hidden somewhere while using it. (Although now that he has a record, he would be a suspect) The probably of their just happening to be undercover police on that train and them knowing what is going on is pretty low. He must have done this enough to arouse a level of suspicion where undercover police were put on the train. This is more like, habitual offender continues
    • I've also caught employees taking calls from recruiters on their morning commute, to avoid using the phone in their offices where they may be overheard by colleagues. I've only had to take someone like that aside for a personal chat once, when I was involved in consulting work with their employer and they were flat-out lying to the recruiter. But there's a real risk of being overheard when you do this.

    • by qvatch ( 576224 )
      it's a decently powerful emitter. You can hunt those down with directional receivers, which are just as small and concealable.
      • Yes, but my point is that, under normal circumstances, there isn't an undercover police officer walking around with a directional receiver looking for somebody jamming cell phone signals. AFAIK they don't issue these to every cop. In order to get caught he had to be either extremely unlucky or a habitual offender. My guess is the latter. Probably somebody in network operation for the phone company noticed something strange on a regular basis and this lead to an investigation.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I don't know how long these devices need to be on to be effective as disrupting cell phones, but the descriptions of their use implies that you flip the switch and it pretty much instantly disrupts calls.

      I would think the "safer" method of using a jammer would not be to turn the thing on and leave it on (thus leaving you exposed to detection), but to have some kind of pulse mode where it comes on for the minimum amount of time necessary to disrupt calls. Of course, people will think it's just a normal drop

  • Headphones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b0bby ( 201198 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:19AM (#51677085)

    A pair of Quiet Comfort noise cancelling headphones would have been a better idea, especially since he had been caught with a jammer before.
    Must not have been paying attention in kindergarten when they discussed making good choices.

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:41AM (#51677247)

    The El in Chicago is LOUD. The Red Line and Blue Line especially, at least the parts underground. Maybe the Red gets quieter up North—I know the stop where he got on.

    Outside the train, an over-passing El will stop conversation for a good 20 seconds or more. The Loop is quite loud, but the loudest stop is the Brown Line at Diversey. It's overhead, most of the support is painted steel, and there are brick buildings directly adjacent to the track on all four sides. It's a deafening echo-chamber.

    The cell phone situation in London is much better, at least on the tube. Compared to Chicago's, that thing is VERY LOUD. The Regional trains, well, it's a mixed bag. But they do have a "Quiet Car" on many of the lines (no cell phones allowed).

  • Try again. (Score:4, Informative)

    by wkwilley2 ( 4278669 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:41AM (#51677255)

    ...and his equipment was confiscated and destroyed.

    Highly unlikely.

    More likely, confiscated and given away during the monthly employee empound raffle.

  • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @10:48AM (#51677309)
    ...who thinks that this guy was doing a service to all riders who also consider inconsiderate cell phone talkers to be boorish? When I'm forced into close proximity (train, restaurant, etc.), I should not be forced to listen to your over-loud end of a phone conversation just because your mother never taught you anything about proper decorum in such situations.
  • life in the city (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snsh ( 968808 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @11:07AM (#51677449)

    Unless you've ever lived in a big city and commuted regularly by train, you wouldn't be aware of how silent riders are in rush hour, especially morning rush hour when the trains and stations are most crowded. A single person making small talk on their phone annoys everyone.

    The mistake this guy made was running his jammer continuously. If you have jammer and want to target one person on a cell phone, you only have to momentarily switch on the jammer when the other end of the call is talking. When the rider is chatting, you leave the jammer off, when the other end is talking, you turn it on. Within 30 seconds, the caller will give up. Using this approach, your jammer is only on for a few seconds at a time.

  • by Slugster ( 635830 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @01:32PM (#51678837)
    The guy is a jerkwad and deserves to get reamed for this. If he would have kept it hid, he would have had his quiet-time and nobody (there) would have known who to blame.
    ,,,,,
    I am making a mental note of this incident tho: if I am somewhere similar and my phone (and everyone else's) appears to be dead, then Imma going to pull out my phone, pretend to call somebody and just keep on talking like normal.
  • market opportunity? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pikalek ( 1527715 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @01:56PM (#51679071)
    Perhaps this demonstrates consumer interest in offering signal free cars? Add a physical 'in case of emergency' phone for 911 calls if need be.
  • by Anonymous Psychopath ( 18031 ) on Friday March 11, 2016 @02:21PM (#51679321) Homepage

    Chicagoan Arrested For Using Cell-phone Jammer To Make Subway Commute Tolerable For Himself at the Expense of Everyone Around Him

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