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Communications United States Your Rights Online

FCC Inquires Into Its Own Authority To Regulate Communication Service Shutdowns 112

Posted by timothy
from the if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say dept.
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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FCC Inquires Into Its Own Authority To Regulate Communication Service Shutdowns

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  • by Bodhammer (559311) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:11PM (#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?
  • Imminent Threat (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jamesh (87723) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:25PM (#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.

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:34PM (#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.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Friday March 02, 2012 @11:37PM (#39228945) Journal

    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.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday March 03, 2012 @12:31AM (#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.
  • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Saturday March 03, 2012 @01:56AM (#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.

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