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FCC Inquires Into Its Own Authority To Regulate Communication Service Shutdowns

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say dept.

Communications 112

New submitter DnaK writes "The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing whether or when the police and other government officials can intentionally interrupt cellphone and Internet service to protect public safety. A scary proposition which will easily become a First Amendment issue. Does the FCC have the authority to [regulate local or state authorities' decision to] take down cellular networks if they determine there is an imminent threat? The FCC is currently asking for public input (PDF) on this decision." According to the article, "among the issues on which the F.C.C. is seeking comment is whether it even has authority over the issue. The public notice asks for comment on whether the F.C.C. itself has legal authority over shutdowns of wireless service and whether it can pre-empt local, state or federal laws that prohibit or constrain the ability of anyone to interrupt service." Maybe they just don't like being upstaged by BART.

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wow. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228735)

This is potentially scary, but not surprising, considering the recent developments in the UK (with SIM cards being remotely disabled by the government after being "Vetted" and determined to be spamming)

Re:wow. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229815)

I picture the "discussion" like this,
High Level Bureaucrat at desk in impressive office (to self) - "Can we shut down cell phone service when we want?"
Answers self - "Of course we can. MWUHAHAHAHAHA!"

what is an imminent threat? (1)

neo8750 (566137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228755)

I didnt RTFA so STFU about it However i was wondering what is an imminent threat from a cellular network?

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228803)

IEDs are often cellphone-triggered. That said, it's far more likely that "imminent threat" would be taken to mean "speech we disagree with"...

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228873)

They just add a dead-man's switch to the IED and then it will blow up when it's cut off. Ta-da, cutting the signal increases the threat.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

Seraphim1982 (813899) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229103)

How are bombs blowing up randomly rather then at times when the bomber judges that they'll be most effective increasing the threat?

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

justforgetme (1814588) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229855)

Dead man's switches aren't supposed to work that way, they are a play on mutual
destruction and sort of a life insurance (ie: if I die I guarantee to take others with me)

I don't agree with the logic (5, Interesting)

tlambert (566799) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229111)

IEDs are often cellphone-triggered. That said, it's far more likely that "imminent threat" would be taken to mean "speech we disagree with"...

This will not change things with regard to IEDs, although it may change the IEDs to make them more dangerous. In general, it doesn't matter anyway, since IEDs rarely happen in the U.S., which is where the F.C.C. has jurisdiction, anyway, unless it's in a movie or in a television drama like N.C.I.S.. There is not a lot of unexploded ordinance lying around for the taking.

Another poster suggested a dead-man's circuit so that shutting down the cell access for the bomb is rigged to trigger it. The workaround would be for the authorities to evacuate, THEN shut down the network. The work around for the workaround would be to enable a motion detector, such that evacuation then shutdown would be ineffective.

On the bright side, if they think the way the parent poster does, it will only be a matter of time before it's a requirement to be able to shut down RFID in passports and credit cards, since that can be used to identify targets as well.

Of course that's not possible, but the workaround there, if it was, would be to couple an RFID reader with a motion sensor and use IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) such that you are at risk if you are not carrying an RFID device on the terrorist approved list when you go past the motion sensor.

Or to hack the system to shut down the RFIDs without the threat that the shutdown mechanism was intended to thwart, thereby disrupting commerce, as a terrorist act in itself. Of course ... then aren't the BART authorities who shut down the cell network guilty of a terrorist act? I guess it's an administrative action if I do it and a terrorist act if you do it.

This is of course all ridiculous, and it's clear that what's really going on is a power grab to obtain the ability to shut down BART-like protests and/or flash-mob protests that are only protests when there are no police in the area to interfere with the protests.

-- Terry

Re:I don't agree with the logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229613)

There are far more clever ways to set off a bomb then a cell phone, you make a good point, but this is another attempt to become more like China and there censorship. To stop any uprisings within the US, in order to stop activists going after the government or the "system".. I do not buy into this terrorist shit, this stuff would have been going on long before sept 11. The fact that it has not happened, before or since leads me to believe the war on terror is some big time bullshit like the war on drugs..

I am not naive there are those that want to do harm to people... It is not right to just take out who ever you wanted because they live in a certain country.. But passing shit like this leads to more harm then good. That is really what this bullshit terrorism is about, they did this shit with communism, if you did drugs you were a communist, if you were out spoken about your governments bullshit you were a communist, and so on and so forth... In the US we are communists and socialists we are just to dumb to wake up and notice it, we hide behind money, technology or material things, then use it as a measuring stick for freedom.

At the same time, we have installed spies through out the world, that the government uses to keep an eye on terrorists, or any other group that wants to destroy your way life over some bs belief.. So to think we need this type of watchdog over cell phones is laughable, but it should be considered, now watch they will allow something to happen to enforce this type of action.

Re:I don't agree with the logic (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39232745)

Then there's the next workaround, The cell network is disabled and the terrorists announce that buildings will fall when they re-enable it. What do authorities do, declare SF a permanent dead zone?

Re:what is an imminent threat? (2)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229175)

IEDs are often cellphone-triggered. That said, it's far more likely that "imminent threat" would be taken to mean "speech we disagree with"...

No, it's not. The courts will allow shutting off cell networks for a national security issue. Life and limb trump free speech as shown with the "screaming fire in a crowded theater" example. Also, the public wouldn't be terribly upset if shutting off the cell networks for a few hours prevented a major or especially heinous terrorist attack, like cell phone triggered bombs in a day care center.

The very second that the state shut down cell networks to silence critics is the second that every media outlet becomes a critic. The government would literally have to shut down all forms of communication, cable news networks, Internet, broadcast TV, radio, satellite radio, newspapers, magazines... EVERYTHING in order to silence the criticism. About 24 hrs after that happens, you will see random armed mobs taking to the streets. Granted, they'll be unorganized as their communications channels would be dead, but they will be armed if with nothing more than boards with nails through them.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229309)

Life and limb trump free speech as shown with the "screaming fire in a crowded theater" example.

Uh, quite the opposite, in fact. The "shouting fire in a crowded theater" case was about the government wanting to prevent people distributing flyers that opposed the draft in WWI, which might have saved some of the soldiers who died in that pointless war if they had refused to go.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

Bobakitoo (1814374) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229753)

Exactly. How long until cell phone coverage is shutdown during a protest because a change in public opinion would be a threat to national security? Cell phone are essential for reporting, especially when cops can take your equipment away because 'photography is now allowed'. Uploading picture as they are taken would allow the public to see what would remain hidden under load of disinformation. This is what corrupted government are really afraid about.

Also next time an official say 'national security', remember that it is not about security of the nation or of it's peoples but the government that is in power. In a democracy we can replace the government at will, they do not need exceptional rights suppressing protection. When a government is gone, we will just elect a new one.

When a protest become a threat to their job security, it is time for them to go.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39230409)

Governments following a revolution are rarely elected.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39230593)

Whether I can choose between two evils or have one chosen for me...

Re:what is an imminent threat? (2)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229695)

Except that terrorists strike where their efforts will be noticed. That tends to be where lots of people are. Disrupting the phone and radio networks (cb,ham) in such places is usually bad because what if someone needs to call for help? To bad you can't call 911 about that heart attack because the president happens to be in town today?

Remember we don't have pay phones anymore.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228929)

I read the article and could answer your question, but I don't like your attitude, so too bad.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (4, Insightful)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228945)

Actually, I just dislike "imminent threat." It sounds like a Hollywood screenplay. Evil Bomber trying to kill The President has placed an explosive device along his route which can be triggered by a phone call and it's up to two cops to track down the bad guy before he sets it off.

I mean, okay, in that scenario, you just say, "Why not just shut down the cell-towers? The phone attached to the bomb can't receive a signal." The President is safe and the two cops can leisurely go about trying to find the bad guy.

The problem comes up, though, that if it's such a good idea, why not just shut down the cell service along The President's route as Standard Operating Procedure. After all, we can't count on the Evil Bomber notifying the police. There could be one out there, so this will prevent it from detonating. Oh, and we should shut it off around whatever place The President is staying, too. For as long as he's staying. After all, it's for his safety. Suddenly, there is no threat--imminent or otherwise. But because you have the capability, why not use it?

What about other situations where there might be a danger? Protesters are known to have bombs. There's a protest planned for tomorrow at City Hall. Maybe it'd be a good idea to shut down cell-phone service--y'know, just in case. After all, we're talking about safety here--you can't be too safe. And, as a by-product, it'll keep them hippy kids from tweetin' and uploading images and videos when the cops go in with their clubs. But that's not what it's about, of course. It's about safety.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229829)

Lots of other "radios" that can be used to trigger a bomb.
CB
GMRS
FRS
Others I don't want to give those ukcs any ideas about shutting down.

Oh yeah also "Timers/Clocks" with all white wires! Lets see them jam those!

Dumb ukcs!

Re:what is an imminent threat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39230919)

Exactly. Why doesn't the President or (insert VIP here) just travel around with a radio jammer set to all frequencies except the one their security detail is using. Extend the range to whatever a decent bomb blast would be and voila.

Of course this sends the bomber back to the old Timex and wires or a classic plunger.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (1)

storkus (179708) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228959)

The Times article has a good example: a phone-controlled bomb or similar device. There's also a more general human C&C such as the Mumbai terrorist attack, which is apparently why satellite phones are banned in India now.

OTOH, the BART fiasco was a knee-jerk reaction so typical these days and that seems to be what prompted the FCC to do this. It is also clearly NOT an "imminent threat".

Here's the problem I see: there is a very clear ban against jammers in the USA, yet you see US manufacturers all over the place online who supposedly can't sell to you or I, yet have no problem selling to Syria et al. AFAIK, jammers are only "legal" for the miltary to have in the USA, so what was BART/SFPD/etc doing with them in their possession in the first place? (IANAL)

Re:what is an imminent threat? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229069)

They didn't use jammers. They shut off their pico cells that run in the stations.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229167)

I live about a mile away from one of the bridges over the Hudson river, north of New York City. On several of the anniversaries of Sept. 11, my cell phone service was shut off for three days because some government agency was afraid someone would use a cellphone as a trigger for a bomb on one of those bridges.

Evidently, there are government agencies with that power already. No need for the FCC to turn cellphones off twice.

Re:what is an imminent threat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229281)

Public safety? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228771)

What kind of threat could justify interrupting internet and cellphone services? The only thing those can do is distribute information, by shutting it down you are restricting communication, I don't think internet or cellphones can do harm enough to justify shutting it down.
The "public safety" excuse is flawed.

Re:Public safety? (2)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228797)

cell-phone triggered bombs.

Re:Public safety? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228809)

Or worse, someone could use MMS to send images of a sexual nature to minors. (This is the FCC we're talking about; violence isn't as important as sex)

Re:Public safety? (4, Funny)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228963)

Or even worse, someone could use SMS to send a link to a YouTube video he recorded of some birds chirping in the woods.

Re:Public safety? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229513)

Oh think of the lost revenue and the owners of that copyright

Re:Public safety? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39232771)

Damn those thieving birds! How are we supposed to sell people over-priced crappy music to listen to in the park with all those damned birds giving it away for free?

Re:Public safety? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229217)

The Internet doesn't kill people. People kill people.

Re:Public safety? (4, Interesting)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229001)

What kind of threat could justify interrupting internet and cellphone services?

Let's just say that you're a Bart police officer and that you've just shot a man in the back [wikipedia.org] , after you had already immobilized him on the floor. You better pray that your employer is able to kill all cell phone communications and internet traffic before any cell phone video is uploaded to Youtube, otherwise your quality of life for the next twelve months is going to be seriously threatened.

Re:Public safety? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39232969)

There are 2 basic scenarios that seem obvious to me. 1 is based on the argument that the cell networks' highest and best use is to provide communications for 1st responders. The second is that the use of the communications network by a seditious few would constitute a threat to public order and safety. The latter argument was recently used in the middle east recently to shut down twitter. No reason I can see that a government willing to exercise that type of power couldn't march their troops into a cell company and shut it down 'til the "threat" subsides.

As to the 1st case, if you've ever been anywhere in the vicinity of a natural disaster, like the Seattle earthquake circa 2000, and you've tried to use your cell phone, you've experienced the a network in gridlock due to the under-provisioning that all communications network design into their systems. If a gubment decides to declare that highest and best use of that comm-network is theirs, temporarily, it's easy to imagine they could declare their right to usurp the service.

I've often wondered if certain accounts receive preferential treatment and whether there are classes of accounts that might be denied service based on some predetermined trigger. PBX's have included rules based programming for decades; there's no reason to believe that large private networks don't already operate in this manner. They certainly possess the necessary technology and companies like Fox, Disney, GE, et al have shown that their motivations are determined by the preferences of their management.

What's wrong with shutting them down (4, Insightful)

Bodhammer (559311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228807)

Seems to work ok in Caracas, Havana, Damascus, Cairo, Republic of Geogia,. Moscow, and Tiananmen Square. I think the government of every repressive dictatorship should be able to disrupt free speech, and public assembly. What's wrong with that?

Re:What's wrong with shutting them down (1)

Bodhammer (559311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228847)

Oh yea, forgot Tehran...

Re:What's wrong with shutting them down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228907)

Moscow? I hadn't heard about cell phone networks being shut down in Moscow. Care to elaborate? My secondary major is in Russia, and this is pretty interesting to me if true.

Re:What's wrong with shutting them down (2)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228983)

Sadly, I have to wonder if at that point there will be people like these [jpfo.org] around to say "enough is enough". The 2nd ain't about duck hunting...

Re:What's wrong with shutting them down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229277)

Sounds like this plan fits America quite well. We just need to make sure the public announcement has commercial breaks with the political sponsors, and then it will have the proper capitalist spin.

Well Ask Slsahdot (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229429)

Generally SLashdot users seem to find it totally acceptable that the FCC control how companies run networks. So it follows naturally the FCC has the power to shut down networks too.

You can't have it both ways people.

Re:Well Ask Slsahdot (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39232851)

Yes, you can. You can insist that the FCC has such powers only for the purpose of maximizing free speech for the public good. Shutting free speech down would violate their mandate and render them a non-entity.

Thanks (1)

DnaK (1306859) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228815)

For looking at my story and accepting it. Even if it was not selected as the article to hit the front page because of my terrible formatting and editing. I'm new to slashdot and still trying to learn the ropes! Please be forgiving:) This news story caught my eye and immediately scared me a little that the FCC has any type of authority to shut down communications networks. How can shutting down access to emergency service numbers and other people ever help? Are we going to shut down local networks if we believe "terrorists" are about to commit an act of violence? I personally do not see a reason to ever stifle speech, good or bad. The amendment is there to protect the minority. Not the majority.

Banning Cellphones while driving (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228823)

Why isn't that a first amendment issue as well?

Re:Banning Cellphones while driving (2, Informative)

Bodhammer (559311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228843)

No, it is different. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schenck_v._United_States [wikipedia.org]

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.[2]"

Re:Banning Cellphones while driving (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228911)

Schenck is no longer good law.

Re:Banning Cellphones while driving (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229317)

Schenck is no longer good law.

It was never good law.

Re:Banning Cellphones while driving (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#39233413)

Schenck is no longer good law.

But the example is still almost certainly good law. (I.e. the state can likely still prohibit shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater.)

Re:Banning Cellphones while driving (1)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231599)

There is no right to drive; driving is a privilege. To be able to drive, you need to accept certain preconditions (be of a certain age, be able to see, not be drunk). Not using a cell phone merely adds one more precondition to the list.

Re:Banning Cellphones while driving (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39232859)

If you prefer, just flip the name to a ban on driving while cellphone. You can speak any time you like, you just have to stop driving first.

Thanks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228857)

Thanks for this information... please see: my web [slashdot.org]

Imminent Threat (3, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228879)

I would hope that if the threat is significant and "imminent" that the FCC would just do whatever the hell they wanted, laws be damned, on the sole condition that the decision maker is held personally accountable for their decision after the threat has subsided, and that their accountability would be judged by the people.

Re:Imminent Threat (1)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228957)

Former president Richard Nixon felt that way. So he tried to rig a federal election to ensure that the "Wrong" people didn't get in.

Re:Imminent Threat (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229031)

You must be new here.

In a situation like this, there would be some lengthy investigation, followed by the public firing of the lowest guy in the chain of authority that phoned AT&T/etc to tell them to turn off their networks.

As much as I like the FCC... (2)

Crasoose (1621969) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228897)

As much as I like the FCC, what in the world would they need to do this for? This seems like a terrible way of stopping the "enemy" from communicating by stopping Citizens from communicating. The FCC has had my back in the past with our thought process on how communications should be handled, I'm glad they are asking for public input on this.

Re:As much as I like the FCC... (3, Insightful)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228927)

You're not understanding the context. The FCC is not the one that's shutting down communications.

Public Transit Authorities like the BART are (very stupidly) shutting down the cell networks they have on premises to disrupt the protests against them.

Cut off communications == less safety (1)

woboyle (1044168) | more than 2 years ago | (#39228925)

People use their cell phones for a lot of things, including calling for help from the police, fire, and other community protection services. There really aren't any public pay phones around any longer, so we rely upon our cell phones in order to contact authorities about dangerous situations. I think that BART should have been severely reprimanded and fined a LOT of $$ for cutting off the signal in San Francisco. Those that made the decisions should have been charged (IMO) with reckless endangerment of the public. The entire idea of shutting off cell phone service in some sort of "emergency" is just the opposite of what should be done, which is to extend coverage as much as possible.

another example from the English riots (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229097)

with the riots in England, there was all sorts of scary talk about rioters using mobiles to organize, but then we hear about concerned citizens using mobiles to organize cleanups

Re:another example from the English riots (1)

woboyle (1044168) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229137)

Well, I am ALWAYS of the opinion that more communication is better than less. It also lets the authorities more easily monitor the "opposition" in order to detect those with "bad" intentions. If they cut off all cellular communications, then the real terrorists will simple fall back to other means to coordinate their actions, such as public WiFi access points, satellite links, etc.

Re:another example from the English riots (3, Insightful)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229471)

Well, I am ALWAYS of the opinion that more communication is better than less. It also lets the authorities more easily monitor the "opposition" in order to detect those with "bad" intentions. If they cut off all cellular communications, then the real terrorists will simple fall back to other means to coordinate their actions, such as public WiFi access points, satellite links, etc.

Don't get me wrong, giving any agency the power to do this is scary as hell to me. And I'm assuming this is not intended as something that would be done long term. However I did not RTFA, so I may be mistaken. Even so, these are supposed terrorists we're talking about. They are not the CIA or a covert branch of a national military. I seriously doubt there are fall back plans or redundancy in most cases. They trigger a bomb with a cell phone. They don't add secondary WiFi or satellite detonation devices.

Hell, I'm not even sure they want to kill civilians in the US anymore. Making failed attempts seems to be more effective at eroding our freedoms and causing civil unrest. If you think about it, during 9/11 civilians were kill and the country became more unified than it had been for 30+ years prior. Because of this two countries were toppled and al-Qaeda was reduced to a shadow of its former self.

Now if you look at what the failed attempts have done, I'd say they've been vastly more successful, especially considering the loss from retaliation of the terrorist group perpetrating the attempt. One guy fails to blow up a bomb in his shoes and now millions of people have to take their shoes off prior to boarding a plane. One guy tries to detonate a bomb in his pants and millions of people have to be irradiated or groped. What has been the financial cost to the US for all of this added "security"? How much money will it cost the economy to disrupt cell phone communications? They don't need to kill us. Just scare us into giving our freedom away and bankrupt the country at the same time.

Re:another example from the English riots (1)

woboyle (1044168) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229573)

I absolutely agree with everything you said. The failed "attempts" to breach our security has resulted in a greatly overloaded response, costing us million$, and the enemy zip/zero/zilch. Plus, they get to eliminate some of their more vulnerable "allies"...

Overarching Authority (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39228947)

I'm not an American, but I understand the the FCC has overarching authority over Spectrum Regulation.

In that sense, local Police or other State organizations would be acting illegally if they interrupted communication without FCC aproval.

Presumably the FCC want to test the right of State organizations to be able do this.

Complicated questions (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#39233451)

I'm not an American, but I understand the the FCC has overarching authority over Spectrum Regulation.

In that sense, local Police or other State organizations would be acting illegally if they interrupted communication without FCC aproval.

Presumably the FCC want to test the right of State organizations to be able do this.

It gets more complicated than that. There is a law prohibiting willful or malicious interference with radio communications, for example, and there's a whole debate about whether it should apply in this kind of circumstance (it was passed in response to threats to the public safety from interference in police communications). There are also common carrier laws requiring the FCC to be contacted if someone is going to discontinue common carrier service--but the FCC has generally exempted mobile services from that law, which they are allowed to do under another law. The entire FCC licensing regime was passed, in part, in response to difficulties in communication caused by signal interference during the sinking of the Titanic--interference that was widely believed to have cost lives. If you shut down cell service, you're often shutting down 911. And that's all before you get to the First Amendment issues.

Seeking public comment? (1)

cheddarlump (834186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229011)

I've got a public comment, best expressed with a single finger. Yeah! You're number 1 FCC!

Why? (2)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229053)

The FCC does not need the authority. A letter to the carrier with DHS letterhead should be enough. It makes everyone else fold up, including verisign. [slashdot.org]

Re:Why? (1)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231637)

Actually the FCC already has the authority to shut down any radio communications anywhere in the USA. The only thing under discussion here is the speed at which they can do it - immediately, or after a FCC memorandum/order and several months of processing time.

Govt Resource (3, Informative)

Harkin (1951724) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229057)

The airwaves are a government regulated resource which it reserves the right to limit access to at its discretion. Way things are set up, you could quite legally, totally loose access to the airwaves at any time for a verity of reasons. I am fairly confident the constitution protects your right to free speech, not your right to emanate electromagnetic waves at any power level or frequency. One might suggest a 28th amendment establishing that right if it is a major concern. In the end, denying access to wireless communications while inconvenient, does not inhibit the ability to speak, only the ability to disseminate information which isn't a protected right.

You have the right to say, write, or believe what you want. Beyond your mouth, you do not have the right to access the means to tell anyone else.

Remember, you choose to be dependent on your cell phone and the Internet.

Re:Govt Resource (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229123)

I am fairly confident the constitution protects your right to free speech, not your right to emanate electromagnetic waves at any power level or frequency.

Which part of the constitution lets the government tell you what you can and can't do with radio waves?

Would you claim that the first amendment would be satisfied if the government said 'you're free to print whatever you want, but we're banning the printing press and anyone found with one will be executed'?

Re:Govt Resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39233041)

The interstate commerce clause is the basis if the FCC's power to regulate communications companies.

And, "no," I wouldn't argue that the press isn't mentioned specifically in the 1st amendment.

Don't forget that the preamble to the Constitution specifies, "the common defence," as a legitimate purpose of government. Thus we've seen the suspension of Habeas Corpus as well as the Alien and Sedition Act used by the federal government and we've also seen the backlash to illegitimate use of power such as that which led to FISA. Don't forget that the backlash, like any judicial remedy comes well after the action which leads to it.

Re:Govt Resource (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229847)

The airwaves are a public resource, which we allow the government to regulate for us to prevent the tragedy of the commons. That doesn't give the government the right to take that resource away from us entirely.

It would be like asking a friend to house-sit for you (you know, feed the dog, take in the mail, etc) while you're away, and coming home to find that he's changed the locks because he's worried you might make a mess of the place.

Normally I think /. is excessively paranoid about this sort of thing, but giving the government (or any organization) the right to shut down vital communication networks is a BAD idea.

And so it has come to this (2)

gottspeed (2060872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229085)

Its unfortunate that as our continent slides deeper and deeper into a fascist wet dream we feel satisfied quibbling over minutia on the internet. I love this forum, some of the most engaging and thought provoking conversations take place here, but I feel like it might be time for the smart people to organize something in meat space. In terms of systems theory, we have the energy and venue, but they have a stranglehold on communication. For this race to survive we need some big sacrifices.

The ability would create illusion of safety (2)

kawabago (551139) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229099)

Having the ability to disrupt cell phones will give officials a false sense of security. Evil doers will plan around the cell system and police won't know what they are doing.

Freedom (2)

saleenS281 (859657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229139)

Not to sound too cliche, but freedom isn't free. If the cost of the government not being allowed to shut down our communications is the occasional bomb being triggered by a cellphone, so be it. This is rife for abuse. Oh, people are protesting in DC and they want to send in the riot patrol? I hear there might be a bomb in the area, better shut down the networks!

Re:Freedom (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39230733)

Not to sound too cliche, but freedom isn't free. If the cost of the government not being allowed to shut down our communications is the occasional bomb being triggered by a cellphone, so be it.

Amen to that. Besides which, it will only force terrorists to tech up, and use something they can't conveniently block. They only use the cellular network now, which provides opportunities to trace back and find the source, because they don't have to use packet radio.

The FCC is asking the wrong people (3, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229155)

The FCC is asking the wrong people. If they are unsure if they have the authority over the decision of local and state governments to take down cellular networks, the very first step should be to ask Congress. The FCC only has the authority that Congress has given it. So, the first step is to ask Congress if Congress believes that the laws that Congress has passed give the FCC this authority. If Congress' answer is no, that is the end of the discussion. If Congress' answer is yes, the next step is to determine whether or not Congress has the authority to regulate the decision of local and state governments to take down cellular networks. That is a more complicated question and more difficult one to answer, but if Congress has not delegated anyone the authority to do so, we do not need to examine the question of whether or not they have the authority to do so.
A more difficult question is whether or not local and state governments have the legal authority to take down cellular networks, and if so, under what circumstances. However, the answer to that is independent of whether or not the FCC has the authority to regulate if and when they do so.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229797)

It's hard for me to understand how you think the FCC could productively ask congress to clarify anything.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39230795)

It really does not matter whether you think congress would give the FCC a productive answer. Congress is the only group that can clarify whether or not they gave the FCC the authority to take the types of actions they are contemplating. The failure of Congress to answer the question should be interpreted as a no.
Personally, this move by the FCC strikes me as an attempt to garner public support for an expansion of federal power. That is, the FCC knows that it does not have the statutory authority to insert itself into this, but it is trying to drum up a large enough group of people that are calling for it to do so that Congress will be hesitant to explicitly restate that it does not have the authority and that the courts may choose to defer to the public sentiment on the issue.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231255)

The congress that gave them the power is no longer around. I do agree that this move looks like an FCC attempt to increase their own power, but I think your idea of how the government should work is not a very common (or practical) one.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231325)

From the perspective of the law in the U.S., it is the same congress. I am more interested in government working in a way that strictly limits its powers than I am in government working in a way that is "practical". Totalitarian governments are very practical.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231445)

If you are interested in government working, then you are clearly interested in something practical.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231541)

I am not particularly interested in the government working at more than a very basic level (enforcing contract law, forcing people to respect basic property rights). Our government is currently involved in many more aspects of the lives of its citizens than I think is good.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39231569)

What if most people want those things that the government is doing. Do you still consider it bad?

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39232677)

Yes, just because most people want the government to run other people's lives does not mean that it is good for the government to run people's lives.

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39232951)

What if most people want those things that the government is doing. Do you still consider it bad?

What if most people want a specific minority expelled from the country. Is that bad?

The tyranny of the majority is exactly what the government is supposed to be protecting us from....

Re:The FCC is asking the wrong people (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39233253)

Government won't protect you from the tyranny of the majority. This has been proven over and over throughout history. If a large enough majority, for example, wants to enslave a minority, then they can. Ultimately if the people around us want to hurt us, they can.

The sad truth (4, Informative)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229189)

If something truly is a matter of life and death, then yes of course they should do whatever needs done and let the pundits bitch about their civil rights after. If I were a police officer, agent, or whatever and the only thing standing between me and saving one or more lives was some rule about people's "liberties", I'd tell them to go to hell and do what needed done. That's what any ethical human being should do.

That's not the problem: The problem is that the authority in this country can't be trusted. Decades of abuse of power has led the public to be generally mistrustful of authority -- and with good reason. And more often these abuses, along with their misconduct, mistakes, and every other bad thing gets swept under the rug. People who question it are outed as "terrorists", and put on watch lists for not being patriotic enough.

The question really being asked here isn't if they should have that power or not: It's how the hell can we trust them given how badly they've abused our trust in the past? The fact that this is even newsworthy is pretty telling: We've gotten to the point where we are willing to risk our lives and those of our fellow citizens to try to hold on to what pathetically few civil privileges we have left to us. They aren't even rights anymore: We just don't want to be the next poor bastard to make the evening news so our friends, family, and coworkers can give each other furtive glances at each other and wonder how it ever came to this.

That's the real story: That all levels of government have become so corrupt that the public no longer trusts it even in the face of a clear and present threat.

Re:The sad truth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39230665)

TO: girlintraining, et al
RE: Indeed

That's the real story: That all levels of government have become so corrupt that the public no longer trusts it even in the face of a clear and present threat. -- girlintraining

From the federal level to the local one, law enforcement has behaved in a manner that the public trust has been almost totally removed.

Locally, some years ago, a cop shot a young man in the chest at a police stop for his stealing a vehicle. No weapon was found in the car. The cop just shot and killed the kid. No punishment for the cop.

At the federal level, we've myriad examples from as far back as Ruby Ridge where an FBI sniper shot and killed a young woman armed with her baby in her arms. Don't get me started on what I—as a professional soldier—know about federal malfeasance at Waco. [NOTE: Shortly after that the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), changed it's name because the acronym HRT was being interpreted as HOMICIDAL RIFLE TEAM, it having KILLED more people than it had rescued.]

It is at the point, NOW, that any significant shut down of the internet and/or telephone system will be construed as an action on the part of the federal government to suppress information about more serious malfeasance on its part.

This is especially of concern during the run up to this years General Election, in consideration of a series of—as we call them in the Army—'indicators' that something is 'afoot'.

Rergards,

Chuck(le)
[Be Prepared. -- motto Boy Scouts of America]

Ok with me, if the dis-incentives are appropriate. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229219)

This is an easy question, since it's similar to the "this terrorist knows the location of an armed atomic bomb - can we torture him to save a city?" one. You simply require people (e.g. government employees) to obey such orders when lawfully received from their superiors, but make it an offense [in the case of torture, a capital offense] to initiate such orders. So anyone - e.g. the president but really anyone in the chain of command - who really believes she is likely to save a million people from a bomb [or whatever the cellphone shutdown is supposed to help with] would be understandably upset at the personal penalty for doing the "right" thing, but would surely not be stopped by giving the orders to torture. After all, you really think you are probably saving 1M people from instant death and many more from radiation poisoning. Not willing to give your own life to prevent this? Maybe you don't think there are a million lives in serious peril after all (or maybe you are truly selfish bastard who shouldn't be near such decision making positions in the first place.)
    Initiating an internet/cell shutdown order might not be significant enough to merit a death sentence, but there needs to be a severe personal disincentive that makes sure you only do it when the plausible threat is deeply serious. Maybe forfeiture of all your assets and 100% tax thereafter for the rest of your life? You can make the outage happen, but it has to be for a threat that you feel so serious that makes your own well-being seem rather insignificant.

Re:Ok with me, if the dis-incentives are appropria (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229379)

This deserves to get modded up. I think the disincentives you give are excessive, but the general idea is sound.

I'd propose:
Giving the order to torture - you must immediately be turned over to the Hague. They'll decide what to do with you.
Giving the order for an internet shutdown - four years in prison and a fine of 150% of your net worth (thus bankrupting you, and taking a portion of your future earnings).

Obviously a Constitutional amendment would be required, if only to prevent your VP from taking your place and immediately pardoning you, which makes this extremely unlikely. But it would be a good way to give useful powers to the government while making sure that those powers don't get abused.

Re:Ok with me, if the dis-incentives are appropria (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229715)

If i had mod points i would unload them on you, even though you are AC and thats against my rules

Which is scarier? (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229297)

Does the FCC have the authority to [regulate local or state authorities' decision to] take down cellular networks if they determine there is an imminent threat?

I'm not sure which scares the hell out of me more. Giving the FCC the power to do this. Or the agency that will have the power to do so if it's not the FCC. I don't like the idea of the FCC having this power, but I like the idea of DHS even less.

You're all reading it wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229421)

The FCC is more or less trying to keep the government in check by telling them NO when they try to black out wireless networks.

The FCC has done far more good than Congress and any other authority I've recently seen. They aren't asking for control to black out the network, they are asking if they have the right to prevent smaller entities from blacking it out....

Re:You're all reading it wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39229491)

lol you are basically telling slashdot to RTFA good luck on your quest

In this instance, the FCC is good (1)

ishmalius (153450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39229437)

I know that the Internet is usually against government power. But people, in this case, you WANT the FCC to trump local laws. For decades now, the FCC has has the sole power to regulate antennas, emitted power, signal purity, etc. And for decades, it has done this in a positive manner, as an enabler rather than as a restriction.

Up until now, the FCC's power has trumped the petty Napoleons in your local government. For example, your HOA might rule about the obtrusiveness of your antenna. Whether it is tall, reaches over your fence, or is conspicuous. But they cannot forbid you from having one that works. That power does not belong to them.

Believe me, the status quo on the FCC's power is fine. Even though big government might be evil, in this one circumstance, you need them.

Re:In this instance, the FCC is good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39230707)

TO: ishmalius
RE: Heh

You remind me of the truism expressed by one of the Founding Fathers....

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. -- Benjamin Franklin

President James Madison, another of the Founding Fathers, chimes in with....

Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.

History bears the truth of that statement out.

In the end more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free. -- Edward Gibbon

You remind me of someone who never learned History. Let alone Civics.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[A popular government without popular information [i.e., the internet], or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. -- President James Madison]

P.S. That INCLUDES the internet....

Federal vs local authority (1)

shoppa (464619) | more than 2 years ago | (#39230543)

In wartime, congress (with the help of the FCC) has shut down radio communications modes before. They've even coordinated plans to do such shutdowns on very short notice, google "CONELRAD".

I would far rather put this in the US congress's hands via the FCC, than in local law enforcement's hands. It's not that I think the world of the current US congress, but rather it's their inability to get together and agree on ANYTHING. Contrast with local yokel law enforcement and city councils setting up a patchwork of local laws and limits on radio and phone and other forms of communications.

Re:Federal vs local authority (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39230757)

TO: shoppa
RE: Wartime, You Say?

In wartime, congress (with the help of the FCC) has shut down radio
communications modes before. They've even coordinated plans to do such
shutdowns on very short notice, google "CONELRAD". -- shoppa

And which war would they be using to shut down the internet NOW? And under
what 'scenario'?

BART shut down cellular service because it was opposed to a public protest. THAT
KIND OF 'WAR'? A war against the citizens of the United States?

What kind of fascist are you, anyway?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth will out.....]

P.S. BY THE WAY..... ....even YOU said the Congress ALLOWED for the shut down.

Not some federal agency under the DIRECT CONTROL of the Executive Branch, i.e.,
Obama, held the authority.

There's something of a difference between your citation and what the FCC is
suggesting. Isn't there.....

Yeah, well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39231659)

If the FCC wanted to do some good, it should inquire into its own authority to dissolve itself permanently. The FCC's track record is ghastly. It injects politics into everything it can its grubby hands on and impedes communications technology instead of promoting it.

So what if the FCC turns off cell phones... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39231765)

Only The Locals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39232277)

TO: All
RE: Who Can Shut Down Cellular Networks

Only local authorities, e.g., County Sheriffs and City Police, should be able to shut down cellular commo networks. State and Federal have too wide an area of influence to keep them 'honest'.

They can request local authorities to shut down a section of the cellular network in support of one of their operations. But let's keep things 'local', as those people—the sheriffs, their deputies, the chiefs of police and their officers—have to live in the impacted communities, so they'll be better judges of the impact to their community.

RE: Who Can Shut Down the Internet

NO DAMNED ONE IN THE WORLD!

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. -- President James Madison]

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