The Scottish Parliament has introduced a new measure to prevent protests and disruptions inside its premises. The parliament has purchased phone-signal blocking pouches, which are designed to stop mobile phones from receiving or making calls, texts, or internet access.
What are the phone-signal blocking pouches?
The phone-signal blocking pouches are small fabric bags that have a special lining that blocks electromagnetic signals. When a phone is placed inside the pouch, it becomes isolated from any network or wireless connection. The pouches are also known as Faraday bags, after the scientist Michael Faraday, who invented the concept of a cage that blocks electric fields.
The Scottish Parliament has bought 200 pouches, which cost £12.50 each, from a company called Yondr. The company claims that its pouches are “the simplest way to create phone-free spaces for work, education, and entertainment”. The company has also supplied its pouches to venues such as schools, cinemas, theatres, and concerts.
Why did the Scottish Parliament bring in the pouches?
The Scottish Parliament has brought in the pouches as part of a crackdown on protests and disruptions that have occurred inside the parliament building. According to The National, a Scottish newspaper, the parliament has faced several incidents of protesters using their phones to livestream, record, or broadcast their actions.
For example, in October 2021, a group of anti-vaccine protesters stormed into the parliament chamber and shouted slogans such as “freedom” and “no vaccine passports”. The protesters used their phones to film themselves and post the videos on social media. The incident caused the parliament to suspend its session and evacuate the building.
In November 2021, another group of protesters, who were opposed to the Scottish government’s gender recognition reform bill, staged a sit-in outside the parliament’s debating chamber. The protesters also used their phones to livestream their protest and communicate with their supporters online. The protest lasted for more than six hours and disrupted the parliament’s business.
The Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body (SPCB), which is responsible for the administration and security of the parliament, decided to introduce the pouches as a way to prevent such incidents from happening again. The SPCB said that the pouches would “help ensure the safety and security of all those who work in or visit the parliament, and the smooth running of parliamentary business”. The SPCB also said that the pouches would “protect the privacy and confidentiality of those who may be affected by any disruption”.
How will the pouches be used?
The pouches will be used by the parliament’s security staff, who will have the authority to ask anyone entering the parliament building to put their phone inside a pouch. The staff will then lock the pouch with a magnetic seal, and give the person a wristband with a matching number. The person will be able to keep their phone with them, but will not be able to use it until they leave the building and unlock the pouch with a special device.
The parliament said that the pouches would only be used “in exceptional circumstances”, and that most visitors and staff would not be affected by the measure. The parliament also said that the pouches would not interfere with the normal functions of the phone, such as the clock, alarm, or camera. The parliament added that the pouches would not damage the phone or affect its battery life.
The parliament also said that the pouches would not apply to MSPs, journalists, or emergency services personnel, who would be exempt from the measure. The parliament said that these groups would be able to use their phones as usual, as long as they did not cause any disruption or breach any rules.
What are the reactions to the pouches?
The introduction of the pouches has sparked mixed reactions from different groups and individuals. Some have welcomed the measure as a necessary and reasonable step to ensure the security and order of the parliament. Others have criticised the measure as a disproportionate and intrusive infringement on the rights and freedoms of the public.
The Scottish Greens, who are part of the coalition government with the SNP, said that they supported the use of the pouches as a “last resort” to deal with “serious and persistent” disruptions. The party’s co-leader, Patrick Harvie, said that the pouches were “a proportionate response to a very specific problem” and that they would “not affect the vast majority of people who visit the parliament”.
The Scottish Conservatives, who are the main opposition party, said that they opposed the use of the pouches as a “heavy-handed” and “draconian” measure that would “undermine the openness and accessibility of the parliament”. The party’s leader, Douglas Ross, said that the pouches were “a step too far” and that they would “create a barrier between the public and their elected representatives”.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who are the third-largest party in the parliament, said that they had “serious reservations” about the use of the pouches as a “blanket ban” on phone use. The party’s leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said that the pouches were “a blunt instrument” and that they would “have a chilling effect on the public’s right to protest and hold their MSPs to account”.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission, which is an independent body that promotes and protects human rights in Scotland, said that it had “concerns” about the use of the pouches as a “potential interference” with the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The commission’s chair, Judith Robertson, said that the pouches were “a significant restriction” and that they should be “subject to strict scrutiny and oversight”.