Following an investigation into a public transit authority that cut off mobile phone service amid a protest earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said recently that it would attempt to outline the circumstances under which officials may legally disrupt wireless communications in the U.S.
In a release last week (PDF), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted that his staff had been investigating the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authority’s preemptive disconnection of mobile phone towers in their subway system: an action that stymied a demonstration which aimed to shut down one of the train platforms as a protest of police brutality.
A similar tactic was attempted by Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak ahead of an angry revolutionary tide that toppled his government early this year. The order to cut off the entire country’s access to the Internet and mobile networks — which was carried out by Mubarak’s corporate partners in the West — was ultimately a tipping point that drove even more people into the streets.
Facing a media backlash against the disruption of cellular service in August, BART spokesman Linton Johnson blamed protesters for creating an unsafe situation. He argued that BART administrators committed to the action, which was not outlined by policy, in order to preserve public safety.
The FCC’s guidance was issued just before BART took a vote on a new policy (PDF) thatapproves disconnections, but limits interruptions to “extraordinary circumstances” like the threat of a bomb with a cellular detonator, or if officials have evidence of “imminent” criminal activity.
The new policy also specifically recognizes that “any interruption of cellular service poses serious risks to public safety and that available open communications networks are critical to our economy and democracy.”
Read the rest at Raw Story
By Stephen C. Webster