White House Fights to Maintain Control Over Internet ‘Kill Switch’

In an upcoming hearing scheduled for later this week, top Department of Homeland Security officials will argue for the right of the executive branch to maintain control of its internet “Kill Switch.”

In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adopted, without public consent, notice, or debate, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303. SOP 303 has infamously been dubbed the internet kill switch. SOP enables DHS to kill all wireless connectivity within a metropolitan area during a time of crisis.

Al Jazeera recently reported that SOP owes its origination to the 2005 London Subway bombings. During these devastating attacks, terrorists used cellular devices to detonate the bombs placed in London’s subway system. This prompted an almost immediate response from the U.S. In the immediate days and weeks following the 2005 London Subway bombings, U.S. officials cut all cellular service in the Hudson River tunnels. Al Jazeera goes on to report that DHS admitted, on its own volition, to the overall disorder of this shutdown process.

In response to the disorder of the Hudson River shutdown, DHS adopted SOP 303 in 2006. SOP 303 states, in part, as follows.

“In support of the recommendations, the NCS [National Communication System] approved Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303, “Emergency Wireless Protocols,” on March 9, 2006, codifying a shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crises. Under the process, the NCC [National Coordinating System] will function as the focal point for coordinating any actions leading up to and following the termination of private wireless network connections, both within a localized area, such as a tunnel or bridge, and within an entire metropolitan area. The decision to shutdown service will be made by State Homeland Security Advisors, their designees, or representatives of the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center. Once the request has been made by these entities, the NCC will operate as an authenticating body, notifying the carriers in the affected area of the decision. The NCC will also ask the requestor a series of questions to determine if the shutdown is a necessary action. After making the determination that the shutdown is no longer required, the NCC will initiate a similar process to reestablish service. The NCS continues to work with the Office of State and Local Government Coordination at DHS, and the Homeland Security Advisor for each State to initiate the rapid implementation of these procedures.”

The obvious complaints against SOP 303 revolve around the vagueness of the above operating language and the almost limitless ability by the vaguely defined governmental authorities to abuse the the process. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed the lawsuit that is set for hearing this week. It is the hope of EPIC to judicially force DHS to release a more detailed listing of SOP 303’s shutdown policy. While persuading a federal court of the unconstitutionality of an internet kill switch is highly unlikely at this time, many expect the lawsuit to force DHS to reveal exactly who and how the internet kill switch can be flipped.

[Image Credit to Makezine]