Internet Kill Switch Plan is Killed…For Now.


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

The Electronic Privacy Information Center recently won the first round of a court action asking that the Department of Homeland Security be required to disclose its plans to pull the plug on regional or national mobile telephone and internet communication systems pursuant to its Standard Operating Procedure 303.

“In the classicly-rendered case, DHS has argued that shutting down entire communication networks might be necessary in order to prevent the detonation of radio-controlled bomb or explosive device.

However, siding with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which brought a suit demanding more transparency for the DHS program known as “Standard Operating Procedure 303” (or SOP303), the federal judge at the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that because the release of the protocol could not reasonably be seen as harming law enforcement “investigative techniques or prosecutions” it’s cited reasons for keeping the details of the program secret did not hold up.” Common Dreams

The so-called SOP 303 could allow DHS to cut-off all internet and mobile phone communications at a regional level or a national level if it determined that there was a national security concern.  We have already seen this government tactic used in Oakland in 2011 and that alleged over reach by the Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities may be the reason for EPIC’s lawsuit. 

This SOP 303 was created on March 9th, 2006 by the National Communications System.  As you may have guessed, the procedure was never released to ordinary Americans.  Here is some background on SOP 303.

“Standard Operating Procedure 303 codifies “a shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crises.”

On March 9, 2006, the National Communications System (“NCS”) approved SOP 303, however it was never released to the public. This secret document codifies a “shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crisis.” In a 2006-2007 Report, the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (“NSTAC”) indicated that SOP 303 would be implemented under the coordination of the National Coordinating Center (“NCC”) of the NSTAC, while the decision to shut down service would be made by state Homeland Security Advisors or individuals at DHS. The report indicates that NCC will determine if a shutdown is necessary based on a “series of questions.”

On July 3, 2011, a Bay Area Rapid Transit (“BART”) officer in San Francisco shot and killed a homeless man, Charles Hill. The officer alleged later that Hill had attacked him with a knife and that he had acted in self-defense. The death sparked a major protest against BART on July 11, 2011. Though the protests disrupted service at several transit stations, no one was injured. A second protest was planned one month later, but was cut short after BART officials cut off all cellular service inside four transit stations for a period of three hours. This act prevented any individual on the station platform from sending or receiving phone calls, messages, or other data.

The incident with BART has set off a renewed interest in the government’s power to shut down access to the Internet and other communications services. A 2011 Report from the White House asserted that the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy have the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during times of war or other national emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission plans to implement policies governing the shutdown of communications traffic for the “purpose of ensuring public safety”. Also, on July 6, 2012, the White House approved an Executive Order seeking to ensure the continuity of government communications during a national crisis. As part of the Executive Order, DHS was granted the authority to seize private facilities, when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications.” Common Dreams

The background information noted above was a wake up call for me.  Just how does the government decide when the internet should be “killed”?  As you can imagine, the answer to that question was not disclosed by the government and was one of the reasons why EPIC filed their FOIA lawsuit.  Until citizens have access to the SOP 303, we will not know how to even defend the government’s future use of the procedure.

It is also important to note that the court allowed DHS 30 days to provide the full and non-redacted documents or to file an appeal of its order.  One can only hope that the government isn’t allowed to use its blanket national security label on any subsequent appeal to shelter the provisions of SOP 303.

With this kind of allegedly unfettered power, the government can put us all into a communications black hole.  When you consider how vital mobile communications and the internet has been in recent international uprisings and national protests like Occupy Wall Street, it is easy to see how this “procedure” could be abused and our rights of free expression chilled, if not mortally wounded.

As you will note above, this SOP 303 was initiated during the Bush Administration, but seemingly welcomed with open arms by the Obama Administration.  The protection of our First Amendment rights is a non-partisan issue and citizens on both sides of the aisle should be concerned.  What do you think will happen if the government appeals this ruling?  Will Congress take bipartisan action to force the disclosure as it has started to do in response to the NSA spying over reach?

Without communications and access to the internet, the American public can be kept in the dark figuratively and literally.  Will this issue eventually find itself in front of the United States Supreme Court?  What can we as individuals do to make sure the government cannot take away our rights to express our ideas?  Are there technological methods that can be utilized to protect our access to mobile phones and the internet?  Let’s hear what you think!

Additional References:  DHS FOIA response;

District Court Order.

50 thoughts on “Internet Kill Switch Plan is Killed…For Now.”

  1. Bron, Gore is a “crazed sex poodle” so I hope not. He apparently just stalks masseuses around hotel suites. I loved the way Tipper Gore shitcanned that bloated buffoon after his perversions and infidelity came to light. We need more political wives like that. Too many Tammy Wynettes, Carlos Danger’s wife being about the worst.

  2. rafflaw:

    thanks for the article. This government is paranoid.

    We need to get rid of DHS before we find ourselves held hostage by a fascist dictatorship. I would say if the government is making those types of plans we are riding merrily along to that inevitable day when we wake up and see government “soldiers” [I use that term very loosely as they would be more like thugs] on our street corners telling us they are there for our protection.

    This is one more indication that our government is neither benign nor a benefactor to its citizens.

  3. Raff,
    Any voice transmission can be jammed. Not sure “blocked” is the right word. Jamming is done by broadcasting a strong signal on the same frequency. It can be white noise or anything else, such as music. The jamming signal has to be strong enough to drown out anything on the CB frequency. There are a 40 CB frequencies, all AM band (no FM). Also for use on the CB frequencies is something called “single sideband” (SSB) which is too hard to explain in this space.

  4. I have no level of comfort that the government, no matter who is controlling it, will use the kill switch only in true emergencies. In fact I cannot imagine a true emergency that could arguably support isolating entire regions or the entire nation by cutting off all communications. It is truly a case of “we can do it so lets”. The fact that its name is “standard operating procedure 303” is chilling.

  5. Nick, it’s time you start getting your history correct. Go to and read about what was said in the Gore CNN interview. Gore didn’t say he invented the internet anymore than Eisenhower said he built the interstate highway system. You’re broadcasting lousy history, teacher,

  6. OS,
    I thought about CB radios. Can they be blocked by governments?
    Thanks for the link to the TPP. Without the Internet, we would not have any information on it.

  7. Larry,
    An excellent subject and one I have thought about frequently. I don’t trust any government, foreign or domestic, to do the right thing if the government itself is threatened. All governments have a vested interest in preserving themselves. That is true no matter if the government is a dictatorship or Camelot.

    In case of a real threat to itself, does anyone think for a moment the government will obey laws or court orders? Some alphabet soup agencies are already scofflaws. I think back to the days of WW2. When there was threat of invasion, all road signs were taken down. Not only internet and cellular service, but how about GPS? Would that be taken down or jammed too?

    Look for a sudden interest in CB and shortwave radio. You can buy walkie-talkies at most sporting goods and outdoor shops now.

    Here is a factoid that radio operators know. Morse code, also called “continuous wave,” or “CW” will cut through all kinds of static and background noise. Anyone who can read CW code is able to send and receive messages that are extremely difficult to jam. FWIW, the reason it is called CW is that the oscillator creates a continuous audible signal that is interrupted by the sending (telegraph) key, creating the readable code. The Navy and Coast Guard recently discontinued the “Sparks” rating for radio operators. The lighting bolt insignia was also retired. These days, the only people using CW code are ham radio operators. I can foresee CW making a comeback. It has been a lot of years since I learned code, but it’s like roller skating. You never really forget it, you just get rusty.

    And if anyone is interested, the best code keys in the world are made by Vibroplex in Knoxville, Tennessee.

  8. How else can this government control our constitutionally protected right to dissent. Once we thought only repressive regimes and third world dictatorships would even have the need for this kind of control over its citizenship (and they all have pretty sounding excuses about national security as well). Perhaps we were right and that is exactly where this government and it’s obsessive need to spy upon and control it’s citizens is headed. Stalin, Hitler & Mao could only dream about such powers – here & now the government will have them. Yet even in 1942 the people who needed to resist found ways to resist – far before the Internet existed. Technology can be hacked, is subject to local EMP and other attacks to disable it, so if it is needed – people will always find ways to resist. Liberty is a powerful addiction once you have had a taste of it, or imagined it, you are willing to do anything to obtain it. The corporate puppet masters of our current government powers that be would be wise to keep that in mind.

  9. For cryin’ out loud raff, the attacks are coming from all sides!

    I have no confidence at all in either the Executive or Legislative Branches, the Democrats or Republicans, and the Supreme Court is peopled with out and out idiots.

    I’m 68 years old and in reasonably good health but I don’t have the energy level I once enjoyed so … I will write another email to my Senator and Congresswoman and make a donation to EPIC.

    Today I’m just all tapped out.

  10. Ya don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
    – Bob Dylan

    But, which was does the Internet blow?

  11. It would be of great interest to have a catalog of reports like this organized by subject, constitutional analysis, and maybe metrics like how generally aware of any given issue the public is, who is organized against it (as in this case the EPIC), and what its disposition is. Among other metrics…
    (I know… suggesting it I should think about doing it…. and maybe I will… )

    This is another great reveal of yet another pre-planned attack on our fundamental precepts (read that as bill-of-rights) of how our society is presumably organized.

    In these pages is a detailing of the militarization of police, the corruption of our judicial system in any number of particulars, various attacks on the right, much less the basic ability, of the citizen to know what the government is up to and etc…

    And the list of examples is added to every day, seemingly every hour there is a new assault, a new endeavor that essentially is laying a minefield about the rudiments of what we think are the basic principles. Find and dismantle one, and 4 more have already been laid in unawares to the public.
    There is no way to keep track of it all.
    And those who are elected and charged with the duty of protecting this (once) great nation are increasingly masterminding the attacks. The ultimate “inside job”!

    I wonder if we are descending, with eyes wide open, into a new dark ages – a dystopia where we almost willfully choose a dark “bladerunner” sort of future…
    I also wonder how we might actually stop it from happening given the seemingly monolithic power of those forces intent on consolidating power, and ultimately eradicating all vestiges of the enlightenment consciousness….

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