The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must make its plan to shut off the internet and cellphone communications available to the American public.

The US government has the authority to turn off the internet in the country, under a plan that was devised during the George W. Bush administration. Many details of the government’s controversial “kill switch” authority have been classified, such as the conditions under which it can be implemented and how the switch can be used.

A kill switch refers to the government’s authority to disconnect commercial and private wireless networks – affecting both cellphones and the internet—in the event of an emergency, such as a viable threat of a terrorist attack. There are a few ways the federal government could exercise its power to shut down and restore internet and cellphone service. It’s also unlikely that a “kill switch” would cause a nationwide blackout. Instead, the government is explicitly authorized to target a “localized area”—such as a bridge—or potentially an “entire metropolitan area,” according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

The Homeland Security Authorities in the United States Of America have on record something called Standard Operating Procedure 303, more commonly known as SOP 303.

SOP 303 was discovered to be in place by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) during a routine investigation to see what measures were in place to try and prevent the remote detonation of bombs within America.

The Court found that SOP 303 fell outside of the accepted methods for law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, thus there were no grounds to keep the details classified as secret. It is highly likely that Homeland Security will appeal the decision, as their view is that it is essential to keep the details secret in the interests of national security and the protection of citizens.

Communications experts say that killing phone service is probably easier, because there are only a few companies the government has to deal with to smother cellphone communications.

Experts say that shutting off the internet could be tougher. There are thousands of internet service providers in the United States.

China is working on nationalized routing. That’s not the case in the United States, where trying to cut off internet in one office in Washington, DC, could mean trying to map cables in Baltimore and Virginia. “If the government attempted to disrupt the largest physical networks in the US, it would also likely disrupt its own communications,” Friedman notes.

Harold Feld, vice president at Public Knowledge, an advocacy group focused on communications and technology policy, says that big internet companies still control a large portion of subscribers in the United States, and if the top 10 service providers cooperated with the government, “you could shut things down fairly easily.”

The US government has always considered it a good idea to have full control over communications networks during a war. During peacetime, government officials could conclude that suspending cellphone service on a particular channel might stop would-be terrorists from setting off one or more bombs. There’s certainly the chance that some government official might consider shutting down communications to stop or hamper protests.

source: voice of russia