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DHS Might Get Forced To Divulge Its Secret Plan To Cut Mobile Service

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Aug 17, 2015 08:21 PM EDT
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A petition asked the Supreme Court to force the government disclosing the U.S. secret plan to disable mobile service during emergencies. The lower courts already declared that the release of the full Feds' plan would put public security at risk.

The case discussed in the Supreme Court concerns Standard Operating Procedure 303. In May, the federals appealed court saying that the government did not have to release its full contents of their emergency secret plan. The reason invoked at the time was that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the Federal authorities to withhold any records that they would consider to "endanger" public safety.

On Tuesday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the high court's justices that based on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit's decision it was created a new "catchall provision" possible to be used in any case related to records on "domestic and national security programs."

According to an exclusive report published by Ars Technica, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was asked by the privacy group for these documents back in 2011, following closing down of mobile service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system. At that time, the Feds stopped the mobile service in order to quell a protest. However, the Department of Homeland Security refused to make public the documents associated with SOP 303.

The appeals court described the secret documents as a unified voluntary process during critical emergencies for the shutting down and restoration of wireless services. Such emergency situations could be, for example, "the threat of radio activated improvised explosive devices."

SOP 303 allows under the direction of the so-called National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee for the shuttering of wireless networks. The Federal agencies are allowed to take down mobile communications within a localized area, for example in a tunnel or bridge, as well as "within an entire metropolitan area."

When SOP 303 is invoked the telecom American companies have agreed to shutter service, however up to date there are no publicly disclosed instances of the SOP 303 stipulated measures ever being invoked. The issue is controversed and subject of heated debate between the supporters of stronger measures to protect American national security and those who would prefer preserving a higher degree of constitutional rights even in the eventuality of an emergency crisis.

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