Bureau of Prisons wants to seek and destroy contraband cell phones

The agency issued a request for information on technology that can detect and interrupt unauthorized wireless devices within correctional facilities in a targeted way.
inmate cellphone, prison contraband
(Getty Images)

Federal prisons have developed methods for stopping contraband cellphones from getting in, and now they are seeking help in catching the wireless devices that make it past the screening process.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Office of Technology issued a request for information Wednesday for tech that can “automatically detect, locate, monitor and interrupt, block or eliminate all band frequencies concurrently” in cellular and wireless Wi-Fi and Bluetooth bands.

The goal is to find and stop all contraband wireless devices at once and only within prison confines.

Federal prisons already use electronic and physical screening and detection to enforce the Contraband Cell Phone Act of 2010, but wireless devices still slip through security.


“This contraband technology can be used to continue criminal enterprises both inside and outside the facility, including threatening witnesses and harassing victims,” reads the RFI. “Contraband wireless communication devices also pose a security risk in that they can be used to coordinate inmate disturbances, introduce dangerous contraband, or direct retribution on staff, government officials, victims, or other inmates.”

Federal telecommunications law prohibits unauthorized, generalized cell phone signal interruptions, so vendors will need to show their technology is authorized. It also can’t affect phones that are in the area for legitimate use.

“The equipment must not impact, collect, or gather any information from any cellular device, including but not limited to the general public who are located outside the secure perimeter of the facility nor from prison staff, vendors, inmates, etc. cellular devices inside the facility (i.e. area of coverage),” the RFI said.

The technology must actively or passively recognize even the shortest transmissions across 16 to 24 wireless bands concurrently and be updateable to detect future bands.

The bureau also wants the tech to operate on a cloud software platform and maintain an audit trail of detections and interruptions.


The agency will use information vendors supply on hardware, software, peripherals and configurations to refine its specifications in a potential solicitation. BOP may request followup tech demonstrations at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., or at a field site.

Questions regarding the RFI are due by Jan. 24, and the agency aims to post answers by Jan. 31. RFI responses are due by 5 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 8.

Dave Nyczepir

Written by Dave Nyczepir

Dave Nyczepir is a technology reporter for FedScoop. He was previously the news editor for Route Fifty and, before that, the education reporter for The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs, California. He covered the 2012 campaign cycle as the staff writer for Campaigns & Elections magazine and Maryland’s 2012 legislative session as the politics reporter for Capital News Service at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his master’s of journalism.

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