One of Britain’s top cops has come up with an unconventional solution for dealing with pesky teenage hackers: Make them wear portable Wi-Fi jammers.
Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, president of the Police Superintentent’s Association, made the suggestion to The Telegraph — immediately attracting the ridicule of more technically minded Twitter users.
He argued that sending people to prison for cyber-offenses is ineffective, and Britain should explore alternative methods of punishment that would prevent reoffending.
“If you have got a 16-year-old who has hacked into your account and stolen your identity, this is a 21st century crime, so we ought to have a 21st century methodology to address it,” he said. “This could be introduced as part of community sentencing, so that the 16-year-old does not have access to the internet or wifi for a period and then in conjunction they have to do some sort of traditional work in the community.”
These tags, he reportedly suggested, could be ankle-mounted — much like traditional trackers sometimes fitted to offenders and people on parole.
There are a few problems with this plan, however — and internet users have been quick to point them out.
For starters, Wi-Fi isn’t the only way people can connect to the internet. Anyone determined to violate the terms of their sentence could simply plug in an ethernet cable to their computer to give them a wired connection to the internet. Or they could use a 5G connection from their phone that operates on a different frequency to Wi-Fi, for that matter.
Another problem: Signal-blockers could be blocked. Jammers disrupt by overwhelming a device with useless signals — so this can be obstructed. A Faraday cage is able to block signals to and from to a smartphone, so building a DIY one around the tag would stop the jammer working.
One more issue — it’s wildly open to abuse. All the wily teenage hacker has to do is wander down to their local coffee shop and boom — no-one there can get online either. At best, it’s antisocial; at worst, it’s a hacker-troll’s dream device.
There’s clearly a problem here that needs to be addressed. As Gavin Thomas points out, “it costs around £38,000 a year to keep someone in prison but if you look at the statistics around short term sentencing the recidivism rate is extraordinarily high. So while we might feel good about ourselves that we have put someone in prison for 12 to 15 months,the chances are that person is going to come out of prison and commit more crime.”
But wearable Wi-Fi jammers are a solution that seems likely to do more harm than good.