Cell phone dampeners are illegal in the United States. Such devices remain in use, however, as a result of overseas imports and public frustration with "inconsiderate" wireless users. Several industries seeking to overturn the ban have entered the political fray against wireless lobbyists.

Penalties for Violation

  • A cell phone dampener (or "jammer") emits a short-range signal on the same frequencies as cell phones, preventing the phones from placing or receiving calls. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) states that it violates the Communications Act of 1934 to make, import, sell, or use any device that interferes with wireless signals. The penalty can be up to $11,000, or a year in prison, as of 2010. The law is silent regarding the mere possession of such a device, however.
  • Many Americans import cell phone dampeners from overseas via online sources, and by 2007 there had only been "a handful" of prosecutions. The fact that it is difficult for the FCC to catch violators accounts for this low enforcement record. Many victims may not know how to file a complaint, and the FCC has a finite pool of available manpower. In addition, if the dampener in question is portable, the perpetrator may be gone by the time investigators arrive.

Enforcement Record

  • Many Americans import cell phone dampeners from overseas via online sources, and by 2007 there had only been "a handful" of prosecutions. The fact that it is difficult for the FCC to catch violators accounts for this low enforcement record. Many victims may not know how to file a complaint, and the FCC has a finite pool of available manpower. In addition, if the dampener in question is portable, the perpetrator may be gone by the time investigators arrive.

Competing Interest Groups

  • Schools, movie theaters, and restaurants seek to block cell phone signals to preserve a distraction-free atmosphere. For example, the National Association of Theater Operators petitioned the FCC to lift the ban on cell phone dampeners in 2006. On the other side, the Cellular and Telecommunications Industry Association desires to prevent legalization of the jammers, according to Matt Richtel in "The New York Times." The wireless industry sees this as a private property issue, and asserts that cell phones save lives in emergencies.


Cell phone alerters are available that indicate the presence of a cell-phone signal. These have been used in hospitals where cell-phone signals could interfere with sensitive medical equipment. When a signal is detected, users are asked to turn off their phones.

A Cell phone jammer is an instrument used to prevent cell phones from receiving signals from base stations. When used, the jammer effectively disables cellular phones. These cell phones can be used in practically any location, but are found primarily in places where a phone call would be particularly disruptive because silence is expected jammerfun.