"Hello, can you hear me now?"
- Democrats in the People's Republic of California passed a bill forcing private cell phone companies to install a "kill switch" that could be used to disable free speech by protestors.
- In 2011 San Francisco’s subway authority interrupted cellphone service in the hope of clamping down on protests.
The Hill reports that tech and civil liberties groups are pushing back on a California "kill switch" bill that they warn could be used to silence protests like the ones seen this week in Ferguson, Mo.
Critics say a California bill passed on Monday contains a dangerous carve-out that could give law enforcement the power to shut down cellphones during emergency situations, possibly including public demonstrations.
The California bill "claims" it is aimed at curbing cellphone theft by requiring all smartphones sold in the state — home to 37 million people — to come equipped with a feature that allows users to remotely wipe their personal data and make the devices inoperable.
It requires that the “kill switches” be turned on by default, though a user can opt out of using the tool.
If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), the bill will add to the features that some companies already offer to let users disable their phones if stolen.
But the bill “is not explicit about who can activate such a switch,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a June letter opposing the bill.
“And more critically, the solution will be available for others to exploit as well, including malicious actors or law enforcement.”
Concerns about the provision have been heightened by the demonstrations this week in Ferguson, where police at times demanded that protestors and journalists turn off the video cameras on their phones.
Jake Laperruque, fellow on privacy, surveillance and security at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the California bill could create the potential for an abuse of power by law enforcement.
“This could effectively be co-opted to disrupt protests,” Laperruque said.
“So much of what’s happening [in Ferguson] is relevant,” he continued, wondering what the situation would look like “if this was required there.”
Reporters Expose Law Enforcement
and Mainstream Media Lies
In Ferguson the police were firing at the press. Don't think for one minute that
the police or military would not use a phone "kill switch".
The bill’s supporters say it incorporates protections against the hypothetical police actions.
The measures specifically references California law that requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant to interrupt communications services except in the cases of “extreme emergency” situations.
In situations where there is “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury and there is insufficient time, with due diligence, to first obtain a court order,” law enforcement officials must quickly obtain retroactive court approval for activating the kill switch.
Max Szabo — a spokesman with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, which supported the bill — called critics concerns “alarmist” and “akin to ambulance chasing.”
In its letter, the EFF notes that current California law limits when law enforcement would be able to use the kill switches but also “provides the necessary legal roadmap” to disable cellphones in some circumstances.
“Because it is difficult to implement a ‘kill switch’ that can only be utilized at the behest of the device user but not third parties or the government, EFF strongly believes the state should not mandate this backdoor be installed into phones in California.”
Laperruque agreed that those legal protections are insufficient.
“If you give law enforcement a tool that can be abused, you’ll have an instance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission,” he said.
The bill “creates a pretty concerning risk considering history on the issue,” he said, recalling a controversial 2011 decision by San Francisco’s subway authority to interrupt cellphone service in the hope of clamping down on protests.
Read more: The Hill.
|Photo: AFP/GETTY) (|
Turing off the Internet
Controlling the people is the #1 priority of government. Countries such as China, Iran, Thailand and Tunisia have cut off access to news websites and social networking services during periods of unrest, as Egypt did when it cut off Facebook and Twitter.
The ongoing attempt by the Egyptian government to shut down all online communication is, however, a new phenomenon. It not only prevents ordinary Egyptian internet users from accessing any websites, it cripples Tor, an anti-censorship tool that technical experts and activists were using to circumvent the Facebook and Twitter blocks.
The action puts Egypt, temporarily at least, in the company of North Korea, which has never allowed its citizens access to the internet.
How Egypt shut down the internet