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Update: The Electronic Privacy Information Center reports that the court just granted the government more time to decide whether to release the kill switch plan. It now has until January 13.
This month, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must make its plan to shut off the internet and cellphone communications available to the American public.
You, of course, may now be thinking: What plan?! Though President Barack Obama swiftly disapproved of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak turning off the internet in his country (to quell widespread civil disobedience) in 2011, the US government has the authority to do the same sort of thing, under a plan that was devised during the George W. Bush administration.
Many details of the government's controversial "kill switch" authority have been classified, such as the conditions under which it can be implemented and how the switch can be used. But thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), DHS has to reveal those details by December 12—or mount an appeal. (The smart betting is on an appeal, since DHS has fought to release this information so far.) Yet here's what we do know about the government's "kill switch" plan:
What is clear is that in 2006, the Bush administration entered into a secret agreement with telecom giants and came up with a specific plan as to when and how the government can actually shut down these networks—called Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303. This is the plan that the US government is required to release under the federal district court ruling. In 2011, the White House asserted again that the administration has the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during national emergencies. And in 2012, President Obama reaffirmed that DHS could seize private facilities and shut down communications in a July executive order.