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Dugan: The cellphone kill switch

BY JACK DUGAN | MAY 04, 2015 5:00 AM

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A court hearing is scheduled for this week on the topic of the Department of Homeland Security’s controversial Standard Operating Procedure 303, otherwise known as the “cell phone kill switch.” Civil-rights groups are appalled with this procedure, as they should be, because this policy would allow government institutions to unilaterally shut off cell-phone service to an entire metropolitan area without warning or explanation.

Standard Operating Procedure 303 was birthed just after the 2005 bombings of the London subway system, without public notice and or any public debate. Since then, exact details pertaining to this policy have been shrouded in secrecy. When human rights/civil liberty groups have asked the Homeland Security to disclose information regarding the procedure, they’ve responded with vague statements such as “Releasing any info would risk national security and public safety.”

The supposed idea behind the procedure would be to prevent terrorists from remotely detonating bombs with their cell phones, as the 2005 London train bombers did. But, given that there is a plethora of alternative ways to remotely detonate explosives outside of a cell-phone network, is something as drastic as severing cell service to parts of or an entire metropolitan area a proper solution to this?

My main concern is this policy being used against the domestic population rather than to protect it. With how crucial mobile platforms such as Twitter have been in populous movements, such as the 2011 Egyptian revolution (nicknamed “The Twitter Revolution”) and how rooted the Occupy movement was in social networks and livestreams, this policy seems to be the perfect fit for quelling popular dissent, hindering organization, and lawful assembly.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak actually blocked networks such as Twitter and Facebook in an attempt suffocate the growing protests. Though it would seem farfetched to us for American institutions to use the methods of despots to quiet the population, the potential is still there.

In fact, it has already happened. In August 2011, operators of the Bay Area Rapid Transit  authority shutdown cell-phone service to four stations in response to a protest planned to disrupt train service as a response to the fatal shooting of Charles Blair Hill. The maneuver worked, and the protest failed to materialize.

Should free speech be protected when the individual uses technology express those thoughts or ideas? Absolutely, and I feel there should be no debate about something as blatant as such. That is why total disclosure of what exactly Standard Operating Procedure 303 entails is necessary. We as citizens deserve the right to know what, why, when, and where cell-phone service has been disconnected. Cellular networks are the fundamental platform by which we as modern people use to communicate with each other, and losing this would be detrimental to a free society.


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