The justices at the U.S. Supreme Court have decided that Americans don’t need to know the circumstances under which the government will pull the plug on cell-phone networks – shutting off service to anyone in a particular area at the time, including anyone trying to reach 9-1-1 because of an emergency.
The determination came when the justices, without comment, refused to consider a request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to review the dispute.
In a routine posting earlier this week, the court said the justices would not be looking at the EPIC vs. DHS case over the government’s cell phone shutdown policy.
The organization notes that the government did exactly that during a peaceful protest at a Bay Area Rapid Transit system station in 2012.
It says it got a redacted copy of the federal plan some time ago, but that essentially answered none of the significant questions.
It had requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the contentious subject, but the government argued it should be allowed to keep details suppressed.
EPIC had argued, “The Federal Communications Commission … has expressed strong concerns that interruptions of cell phone service pose a threat to public safety. Such decisions by a federal agency could prevent access [to] timely medical and emergency services.
“The FCC explicitly prohibits the use of ‘jammers’ and other devices that disrupt cell phone service, and has repeatedly issued advisories to state and local government officials (including law enforcement agencies) emphasizing the importance of the prohibition.
“These techniques ‘can prevent 9/1/1 and other emergency phone calls’ from ‘getting through to first responders or interfere with’ official ‘communications that are critical to carrying out law enforcement missions,'” it said.
“It is precisely in those circumstances when the DHS contemplates a cellphone shutdown that public access to cellphone service may be most vital,” the brief explains.
It’s already happened.
One situation developed a number of years ago in New York, where service was shut down to users in a subway-system section.
But the government has been less than forthcoming about the standards it uses to decide if, when and for how long to disable services.
WND reported just a few months ago just exactly who could cut off Americans’ service and why isn’t for citizens to know, according to the government.
It was reported then that during the BART protest, officials cut off service for several hours after a BART security officer shot and killed a homeless man and protests erupted.
The shutdown order was made when a protest organizer sought to coordinate activists via cell phone.
The San Francisco shutdown, which is supposed to be controlled by the Department of Homeland Security’s Standard Operating Procedure 303, prevented anyone inside the transit stations “from sending or receiving phone calls, messages, emergency notifications and other transmissions,” according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The plan was adopted in 2006 by the National Communications System, but it never has been released to the public, even though it codifies a “shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during a national crisis.”
Its existence was affirmed in a 2011 report from the Obama White House that asserted the “National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy have the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during times of war or other national emergencies.”
In fact, the White House, through executive order, granted DHS “the authority to seize private facilities, when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications,” EPIC said.
But information such as the text of the policy and the protocols for when cell service is taken over need to be made public, the organization argued.