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Public notice seeks comment government interruption of wireless service

What are the legal constraints and policy considerations that bear on government entities that intentionally interrupt wireless service to achieve a public safety goal?

That question is the subject of a new public notice from the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. The commission is seeking comment on intentional interruption of Commercial Mobile Radio Service by the government for the purpose of maintaining the safety of the public.

In seeking comment, the agency points out that wireless communications plays an important public safety function, with nearly 70 percent of all 911 calls originating from wireless phones.

However, some in law enforcement have raised concerns that wireless networks can be used in ways that put the public risk. For example, wireless service could be used to trigger detonation of an explosive or to organize a violent flash mob.

“Any intentional interruption of wireless service, no matter how brief or localized, raises significant concerns and implicates substantial legal and policy questions,” the public notice said.

In the notice, the commission said it is concerned there has been “insufficient discussion, analysis, and consideration” of the questions raised by intentional wireless service interruptions by authorities.

The public notice focuses on situations in which wireless carriers interrupt their own services in an area for a limited time period at the request of a government authority, or have their services interrupted by a government actor that exercises lawful control over network facilities.

The questions raised in the public notice fall into six major categories, including:

  • Past practices and precedents
  • Bases for interrupting wireless service
  • Risks in interrupting wireless service
  • Scope of interruption
  • Authority to interrupt service
  • Legal constraints on service interruption.

Comments are due April 30, 2012; reply comments are due May 30, 2012.