Posaphone MPs put Speaker in a jam

AN ELECTRONIC ''jammer'' normally used in warfare has been installed in an attempt to stop Italian politicians using their mobile telephones in the debating chamber of the parliament in Rome.

Although phones were banned from the chamber last October, MPs could not bear to be cut off from the outside world, and parliament echoed with incoming calls and outgoing chatter, driving the Speaker, Ireni Pivetti, to distraction.

According to the British journal Physics World: ''The shield consists of a constant density electromagnetic 'jamming' field, operating at a similar energy and frequency to normal cellular phones.'' Although experts say there is no risk to health, "MPs are uneasy and have consulted the Italian Radiological Society". One MP complains that the signals will affect his sexual potency.

Although many Italian scientists have heard of the plan, few seem to have been given any details. Nicola Rubino, director of Iroe, the electromagnetic waves research centre in Florence, said he could "only guess" about the system that had been set up.

''Jamming of signals is done by emitting a random electromagnetic signal at the same frequency as the signal you're jamming," he said. The alternative would be to install a passive shield made of wire mesh to block calls. The building is too big for that to be practical, however.

Professor Angelo Ricci, president of the Italian Physical Society, said there was no need for such elaborate measures given that mobile phones can be switched off. "What do the MPs do in Britain?'' he asked. The answer, according to the Serjeant-at-Arms office at the House of Commons, is that MPs are forbidden to bring mobile phones into the chamber. Unlike the Italians, the British MPs seem to observe the ban. "We don't search them as they go in,'' a spokesman said.

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