RESIDENTS living near Saughton Prison face having their phone signals accidentally jammed under plans to stamp out the illegal use of mobiles by inmates, it has been claimed.
Concerns were raised by MSPs about the unintended impact of UK Government plans to crack down on the problem, which may also see personal data mistakenly stored by authorities.
The city’s jail in Stenhouse Road lies in a densely populated area.
The move today sparked calls for a public consultation by community groups to determine how widespread any problems could be.
The availability of mobiles at Saughton Prison has been widespread in recent years, with 367 such devices recovered in 2010 alone.
It is already an offence to have a mobile in jail but authorities are concerned that serious organised crime is still being conducted by prisoners with access to illicit phones.
Patt Carr, chair of the Stenhouse, Saughton Mains and Whitson community council, said: “How are they supposed to pin down the area which is jammed? There are a number of houses which are very close to the prison so I’m not sure how that would be possible.
“I understand why the prison wants to use jamming but perhaps they could look again at methods to prevent the phones getting inside in the first place.”
Holyrood’s Justice Committee, while supporting the UK-wide legislation, called for assurances that members of the public will be protected.
Roseanna Cunningham, Community Safety Minister, told the committee: “I understand the point about the proximity of some jails to built-up areas and the necessity to ensure it does not effectively blanket a much wider area.”
Officials said technology will be tested to ensure there is no overspill into residential areas. But the committee heard that signals could be affected and data picked up in some situations.
Jim O’Neill, senior legal policy manager at the Scottish Prison Service, said: “You cannot say it will never, ever happen. The key for us is that it’s only able to exercise this power within prisons.”
As well as Saughton Prison, a number of other Scottish jails lie in highly populated areas, such as Barlinnie in Glasgow and Craiginches in Aberdeen.
The Prison (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill enables the authorities to prevent, detect and investigate the use of mobile phones and will apply to all prisons, young offenders’ institutions and secure training centres.
As well as allowing the jamming of signals, the legislation will let prison authorities trace calls.