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Court orders Homeland Security to release 'kill switch' protocol

Court orders Homeland Security to release 'kill switch' protocol

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Government agencies have long defended their right to a so-called "kill switch" for cell phones, the ability to shut down cell service for an entire area in the case of a remote-activated bomb threat or other extreme scenarios. But until now, the legalities of activating that switch, detailed in a document named SOP 303, have been a national secret, known only to government officials.

But it won't be secret for much longer. This morning, a federal court in Washington, DC ruled that the document was not exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and gave the Department of Homeland Security 30 days to make SOP 303 public. "The Court is not unaware of the potential adverse use to which this information could be put," the ruling says, but found the government's case too weak to uphold.

Once the document is released, advocates will know exactly when and how the kill switch can be activated, and will be better equipped to mount an appeal if they feel the switch has been activated without sufficient cause. EPIC had previously filed for the document under a Freedom of Information Act request, but received a document so heavily redacted as to be unreadable. Thanks to the DC District Court, they'll now have the full text.