Philippine Goverment Pushes for Mobile Phone Ban in Schools
By Mark Frauenfelder, Fri Jul 30 21:15:00 GMT 2004

In a move to curb gambling among students, the Philippines' Department of Justice wants to ban mobile phones on campuses. How much do you want to bet it won't do any good?

The acting secretary of the Philippines' Department of Justice asked the Commission on Higher Education on Thursday to consider banning mobile phones from high school campuses in an effort to stop students from participating in an online lottery game called ending games, in which players try to guess the last digits of the final scores of various pro sports games. Ironically, one of the articles comes with an editor's note at the bottom asking people to send in their comments via SMS -- just not from a school campus, right?

Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez acknowledged that such a ban could constitute a human-rights violation, but said that it could help the students from developing bad habits. In addition to gambling, she revealed the shocking news that some students even used their mobile phones to -- gasp -- view pornography. She also warned students were becoming addicted to computer games.

Gambling! Pornography! Addiction! Some people would like to pretend that banning a technology could solve these "problems." Obviously, a campus wide ban would do nothing to stop students from using their mobile phones to place bets off-campus. Besides, typically the main effect of prohibition is strengthening the black market. If cell phones are banned on campus, then an enterprising student will simply appoint himself the school bookie. He'll enter bets into his PDA (and when those are banned, onto a paper notebook) and then go off-campus to place the bets.

Wisely, the Commission on Higher Education is pushing back. The Officer in Charge said mobile phone use by students is "within the academic freedom of the institution, and that instead of banning phones on campus, "we only need stiffer regulations to discipline students on the use of cell phones during class hours or when inside the classroom.

Reactionary bans on new technologies typically ignore the benefits that get eliminated. Mobile devices could be a great way for schools to provide personalized class and extracurricular schedules to students. They could be excellent research tools. Who knows what great future application will never see the light of day because some misguided politician decided to ban mobile phones back in 2004?