Reports suggest local law enforcement agencies are considering shutting down cell phone services in the city over the weekend and while it will most likely be very effective, many are questioning if the move is legitimate.
The Daily Beast reports that the FBI and Secret Service have standing authority to jam signals and they can also push for the shutdown of cell towers, thanks to “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303,” which lays out the nation’s official “Emergency Wireless Protocols.”
According to the National Communications System, the protocol details a “shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crises.” It was created after the London bombings in 2005, when federal security services shut off cellular networks in New York’s tunnel, fearing a similar attack. Since then, cell phone jammers have been used in situations like President Obama’s inauguration, with the Secret Service claiming there was a bomb threat, as well as a number of other cases.
Most recently, however, cell phone service was suspended in San Francisco, where police of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system temporarily shut down cell service to interfere with a protest over a shooting by a BART police officer.
Initially, the BART police claimed they had appealed to the cellular providers to cut off services but later admitted to pulling the plug themselves. The American Civil Liberties Union called this move “the first and only known time a government agency in the US has blocked electronic communications as a way to quell social unrest.”
The possibility of the situation repeating itself in Chicago is not one the public is fond of. Apart from the obvious indignation at civil rights violations, people all over the web are posing perfectly reasonable questions such as what if they have to call 911? What if they have a family emergency? And why should those not involved with Occupy Chicago or any other protest movements suffer service disruptions?
The irony of the situation is, of course, in the fact that the US security services are considering doing something they’ve condemned others for. Just a month ago, President Barack Obama announced a plan to penalize authoritarian regimes that block internet access for protesters. The penalties will be aimed at countries like Syria and Iran that use technology to enable human-rights abuses against dissidents – but to many, this is a perfect example of double standards.
This potential development is just one of the drastic security measures Chicago law enforcement agencies are considering. They’ve also invested as much as $1 million on riot-control equipment, including at least one long-range acoustic device, or LRAD, and upgrades to shields to be worn by the police.