A bank in Chicago has banned use of cellphones in five of its branches, hoping to prevent the bad guys from communicating with each other during a robbery, according to UPI:
“We ban cell phone use in the lobby because you don’t know what people are doing,” Ralph Oster, a senior vice president [of the First National Bank], told the Chicago Tribune. Cell phone cameras are also a worry.
Oster said there have been holdups in which bandits were on the phone with lookouts outside while committing bank robberies.
As the piece points out, this isn’t the first such ban: West Suburban Bank, based in Lombard, Ill., barred customers wearing hats in January but has not moved to silence cell phones.
Does this make sense? Well, in some ways it does. If there’s a guy hanging around the bank on the phone, it could be that he’s coordinating his getaway car, and you would want to try to nip that kind of thing in the bud. It does happen. By stopping him (or her) from using a cellphone he may decide not to rob your bank, but the one next door instead, where cellphones aren’t banned.
However, where does it stop? Would someone texting/SMSing be told to stop? And how would a security guard, however many PhDs he has, be able to tell the difference between someone jabbing away on a cellphone and jabbing away on a PDA? How about people using handsfree devices? Are they just singing/talking to themselves?
On the other hand, isn’t there an easier way? I would have thought a cellphone blocker would be a better idea (check out this excellent Google Answer on the difference between jammers (illegal in the U.S., since it involves actually interfering with the signal) and blockers (which build a shield around the location to block signals from penetrating it).
Of course, there are downsides. How many times have you been in a bank and then realized you needed to contact a friend/colleague/family member to discuss how much money you should take out/deposit/borrow? As Bruce Schneier would say, devices can be used for both good and ill and if the good outweighs the ill, as it usually does, banning is stooopid:
We don’t ban cars because bank robbers can use them to get away faster. We don’t ban cell phones because drug dealers use them to arrange sales. We don’t ban money because kidnappers use it. And finally, we don’t ban cryptography because the bad guys it to keep their communications secret. In all of these cases, the benefit to society of having the technology is much greater than the benefit to society of controlling, crippling, or banning the technology.
I think that I could go either way on this issue. I can see why the banks want to ban cell phones, but I can also see how annoying it is for their customers. I don’t think it’s worth worrying about though. What will be will be!