On Thursday, a federal judge in New Hampshire sentenced a former Republican National Committee official to 10 months in prison for his involvement in a 2002 phone-jamming scheme. Three other men have also been convicted of tying up the phone lines of a union headquarters and five New Hampshire Democratic offices on Election Day. What is phone jamming?
Making repeated phone calls to a single number with the intention to intimidate or harass. Phones can be jammed either automatically (with a computer dialing system) or manually. In the New Hampshire case, employees at a telemarketing firm called six separate phone numbers by hand for about two hours. The telemarketers repeatedly called and hung up, placing a total of around 1,000 calls.
If the calls are made from one state to another, as in this instance, it’s considered felony interstate telephone harassment. Title 47 of the U.S. Code, which covers telecommunication issues, doesn’t specify what the nature of the calls must be, only that they cause the line to ring continuously in an attempt to harass the telephonee. *
Because the statute is vague about what qualifies as harassment, attorneys say phone jamming is not often prosecuted as a federal crime. More often, jamming falls under the jurisdiction of state harassment and stalking laws and is usually considered a misdemeanor.
The New Hampshire case isn’t the first phone-jamming scandal in American politics. In 1988, the phones of California congressional candidate (and current SEC head) Christopher Cox were tied up. Investigators traced the calls to the home of supporters of his GOP-primary rival, but no charges were ever filed.
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* Correction, May 22, 2005: This piece originally stated that interstate telephone harassment is prohibited by Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations. It’s prohibited by Title 47 of the U.S. Code. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.