back to article Why the US government reckons it should keep phone network kill-switches a secret

The US government has argued that the rules around how and when it is allowed to shutdown phone networks must remain secret because the disclosure could endanger lives. In a court filing [PDF] this week, lawyers from the Department of Justice argued that public disclosure of Standard Operating Procedure 303 (SOP 303) "would …

Joke

Jack Bauer....

So what WILL the hero do with the explosive device counting down and has a remote cellphone trigger?

Tick-Tonk-Tink-Tonk......

P.

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Re: Jack Bauer....@phil dude

I dunno...wrap the whole thing in tinfoil perhaps?

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Re: Jack Bauer....

Nothing - the remote cellphone trigger will probably have alarm(s) set too as a failsafe.

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Be Warned .... For there be Zero Prior Warning to Dim Fools and Blunt Tools

The rules of the Great Game are ... There are no rules and one can do what one wants if no one is able to stop you ...... but you better not be caught out feathering your own nest on the misfortune of others, for then is there hell to pay and no mercy given to fools who, and with tools which, are nowhere near as smart as be needed nowadays to rule and reign supreme.

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Why? Really, if anyone is sick enough to want to use a radio controlled bomb there are plenty of other RC devices out there that don't need a mobile phone network. Or a timer. Or the lack of a radio link. Or as demonstrated with those very 7 July tube bombing, but pushing the button and blowing yourself up as well.

One strongly suspects there is much more to this reluctance than just how some bomber could manipulate the network kill-switch.

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Forget the "bomb" angle for now. Some of us are thinking it has to do with a police shooting. If cop shoots a suspect, shutdown the phones. No crowd will be drawn by witnesses with cell phones, etc. Civil disobedience, peaceful demonstrations... any of thousand reasons why they would or want to shut down the cell phone system.

The word "any" appears to be a catch-all here as given the way things are here in the States, a case could be made for their reasoning. The hell of it is, the courts agree that they don't have to tell us when it applies or doesn't apply. Government just has to say "life or lives are in danger".....

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Mushroom

Tell you what...

I look forward to the first trial where a legal whiz-kid asks the gubmit-org-of-the-day to prove beyond any doubt that by keeping the secret-mcguffin-of-the-day secret, they can ensure that NO lives are in ANY danger anywhere. Yes, that includes bricks falling from rooftops and the Vogons showing up to disintegrate Earth, no matter how remote the possibility. And if they CAN'T do that, get the case (and any future similar ones) summarily throw out with extreme prejudice.

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I'm thinking the logic is thus: "Not being able to stifle protests would open the possibility of being removed from power; therefore my life style is in danger."

Alternatively, "If the masses find out what we've written, they'll want to lynch us, so if this comes out our lives are in danger."

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Re: Tell you what...

You failed before you got up this morning. Governments NEVER have to prove they can protect everybody all the time. In fact, it would be a lousy world to live in if they tried. They only need to show they have a reasonable presumption to protect some or even one life by their actions in an emergency situation.

Or to paraphrase you: the courts summarily threw out your argument with extreme prejudice long before it even occurred to you.

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I also don't believe

That they need to provide full verification techniques just enough detail to ensure its usage to suppress dissent is constrained.

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Mushroom

Decent engineer.

Designs fall back plan.

1) wait

2) every so often see if the network is there

3) no network? *failsafe*

SOP 303 :

Let stupid knee-jerk overreaction be executed by harassed public servant.

<relevant icon is relevant>

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oh no, more of the same

Doesn't ANYONE pay attention to all the published failures of Security through Obscurity?

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Fail deadly

Won't the bombers figure out how to blow it up when the network goes down (perhaps after a time delay)?

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Re: Fail deadly

Won't the bombers figure out how to blow it up when the network goes down (perhaps after a time delay)?

That's precisely why particulars interlocking sets of booby-traps are designed into a proper device. Even, hell especially, the military does it, creating interlocked routines for activation (must be done before trigger is even activated), trigger, and deactivation. I can't see many terrorists going this route though. Using the old suicide (not-so-smart) bomb(er) works just fine. If they have any reservations about the suicide part, just stick a remote detonator in as a backup. Nothing more required. It's the whole do-it while staying alive part that can get really involved, pitting e.g. DHS versus terrorist/criminal mastermind.

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Re: Fail deadly

Emplace device. Have it stay safe only so long as it receives a broadcast. (This isn't a difficult design.)

Voila! A clear and convincing demonstration of how government actions create the very danger it's claiming to safeguard against.

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Ya think?

Ya think the bad guys might circumvent the system if they could?

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Mushroom

Re: Ya think?

The reasons to have documented, published information about a security systems are (1) to ensure that the procedures/methods can be examined by outside individuals to evaluate strengths and, especially, weaknesses. What part of the Many-Eyeballs/Security-by-obscurity situation do you not understand? (2) All actors understand what sequence of events result in what actions so any deviation from established procedures/results can be identified immediately, not after you're cleaning up the dead bodies and property damage when things went off track. Now, not later.

A for real situation. The sequence of events surrounding the authorization and use of nuclear weapons are kept SECRET. For the reason that those of us in the chain of participants, and the people around us, can't stop things NOW, not later, should that train run off the tracks. Hell, we had a checklist for everything when I wore the uniform and anywhere you went the lists were right out in plain view with SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) as the imprint. Anomalies are damned hard to detect if only a few know the criteria.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ya think?

"A for real situation. The sequence of events surrounding the authorization and use of nuclear weapons are kept SECRET. For the reason that those of us in the chain of participants, and the people around us, can't stop things NOW, not later, should that train run off the tracks. Hell, we had a checklist for everything when I wore the uniform and anywhere you went the lists were right out in plain view with SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) as the imprint. Anomalies are damned hard to detect if only a few know the criteria."

It's also hard for one party to USURP the procedure, which was the real concern. They didn't want something as consequential as a nuke being done accidentally, so they designed it fail-safe; every step served as a check and balance, such that the launch only occurred when EVERYONE was in agreement.

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Re: Ya thunk?

A for real situation. The sequence of events surrounding the authorization and use of nuclear weapons are kept SECRET. For the reason that those of us in the chain of participants, and the people around us, can't stop things NOW, not later, should that train run off the tracks. Hell, we had a checklist for everything when I wore the uniform and anywhere you went the lists were right out in plain view with SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) as the imprint. Anomalies are damned hard to detect if only a few know the criteria. ....... Jack of Shadows

Hi, Jack of Shadows,

I presume/assume you meant to share the reason for knowledge of the secrecy in the sequence of events regarding nuclear weapons use/authorisation is so that those of us in the chain can stop things in the now rather than can't stop things later? Methinks it is not failsafe though if it be servered by humans, hence the sequencing machines involved to try and ensure security and protection from the enemy and primitive idiot wannabe Lord and Master?

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Re: Ya thunk? You aint thunk nothing great yet, have you, which is why you are where you are.

Oh, and when the following is not a fanciful fiction but a valid viable viral fact in tandem and league with APT ACTors ......... http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/when-bots-collude ...... who and/or what is creating the future and ITs Reality via Virtual Memes?

Are y'all ready to Beta Play the Greater IntelAIgent Game yet or have you not yet realised the nature of your existence and unravelling revealing predicament?

Positive answers with a wish list of SMARTR program placements for present productions to Box 1300, London, SE1 1BD where they can be ignored or phished and phormed perversely to render novel excellence, corrupt sub prime.

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Mushroom

Don't you trust your government?

These plans were developed under the guidance of elected officials who are required to operate within the law and would never think of using their power irresponsibly. Don't you trust them?

I, for one, would like to know whether, if there's credible information that there's an IED planted somewhere in New York City (place unknown), to be detonated with a disposable phone (network unknown), then someone would shut down all of NYC's cell networks, without warning, until the bomb is found?

I'd also like to point out that if you know approximately where the IED is, the Army has RF jammers, which cover not only cell networks but also other frequencies, in service in our various foreign wars and, probably, in stock at Army and National Guard bases around the country.

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Do we really need to tell the enemy what our plans are?

Eff all this idiocy. Namby Pamby IDIOTS have been clamoring for the government to divulge state secrets and rules of engagement for far too long. We can't win if you tell everyone exactly what we intend to do.

The enemy (whom ever you want them to be) should not get our battle plans and other state secrets emblazoned on any web page or a white paper or put in the Code of Federal Register for all to see.

Of course THIS administration has done everything it can to assure the failure of any military action as they are diametrically opposed to the military and even sympathize with the enemy.

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Re: Do we really need to tell the enemy what our plans are?

Yes, yes you do, if you want to have the moral high-ground and avoid death.

Troll-feeding aside its important to know the reasons why these things should be public.

Part of the reason for the first world war was a network of secret treaties where nobody knew what the consequences of their actions would be. Do you think Saddam would have invaded Kuwait if he knew what the US reaction was going to be? The cynical might say the US was banking on that.

These are not state secrets, these are not even secrets against foreign enemies. These are actions against US nationals, used against civilian protests against state force which resulted in someone dying.

What happens if someone like Snowden leaks the SOP? Does it negate the SOP? Will the have to ditch it? How does anyone follow it if they don't know what it is?

SOPs are there to ensure that everyone does the right thing. The procedures are thought-out and put in place when everyone has a cool head, rather than making decisions in a panic. Its actually there to stop things like the BART incident. It helps prevent wrong behaviour because everyone on the ground knows what they should do and that they will be personally held responsible if they deviate from policy. If the policy is secret, there is no policy, there is just "what we wanted to do at the time."

What happens when the journalists show up with satellite links and free wifi? What happens when houses around the area decide to have open wifi? Can they shut down all the cable & telco fixed lines too? If information warfare comes to the streets, how long do you think it will be before people start bringing police radio jammers to demonstrations?

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Re: Do we really need to tell the enemy what our plans are?

"What happens if someone like Snowden leaks the SOP? Does it negate the SOP? Will the have to ditch it? How does anyone follow it if they don't know what it is?"

They probably would have to change it for fear of the procedure being USURPED and turned against us. If it takes three keys to open the door, what choice do you have left when the locations of those keys have been leaked, meaning someone can obtain them all and circumvent the multiple agreement that's normally associated with three keys?

"What happens when the journalists show up with satellite links and free wifi? What happens when houses around the area decide to have open wifi? Can they shut down all the cable & telco fixed lines too? If information warfare comes to the streets, how long do you think it will be before people start bringing police radio jammers to demonstrations?"

Like you said, the Army has jammers of its own and more power than civilians could likely bring to bear, meaning they can probably outjam any femtocell or wifi setup you can think of. And that by default rules out satellite which is sensitive enough as is. Last I checked, police also carry extra power in their radios so are already somewhat jam-resistant. Plus, since such jammers are illegal, they'll likely triangulate the positions of these jammers and quickly move to neutralize them. And the cable and telephone companies have hubs and central points of control; ergo, easy to control.

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Re: Do we really need to tell the enemy what our plans are? @ P.Lee

The fact is that the public does not "need" to know everything that a government does or when they are going to do it.

You are just giving away your plans and might as well just call the enemy (whomever that may be) and tell them exactly what you are going to do.

We can see that for at least the past 5 years, that "social media" has been the coordinating method for riots and unrest everywhere in the world.

What kind of idiot would think we don't already have a plan to shutdown all communication across the country or specific regions? We've had that ability with POT's service since the 1950's.

Shutting down or jamming cell service is an extension of that capability.

Many so called "Journalists" are nothing more than instigators these days. Why would you trust them? Their trust approval is as low as politicians.

BTW, there wouldn't be any Internet or "free Wifi" if there was a nationwide shutdown of communications, the fiber backbone would go dark too!

Any "citizen" using cell jammers might think twice as thats a Federal crime, they ARE going to triangulate your position and they will find you.

Of more importance, how about taking some personal responsibility for your own actions or lack of same instead of rioting? That single mother from Baltimore should go after the rest of those idiots and give them a good bitchslappin too!

If you won't go to school, how do you learn? If you don't even try educate yourself (because it's not "Cool") you can't blame anyone but yourself if you can't find a job as your "problems" are the result of a self fullfilling prophecy. No education, no job. How is that anyone elses problem but your own? If you don't respect anyone, why should you get respect? If you won't work, why should I or anyone else give you a job or any income? Get off your lazy ass and WORK if you need money.

The government is not the root of our problems, we are. We have overcompensated for 50 years and created several generations of "infants" that think the whole world should be handed to them on a silver platter. When they don't get their way, they throw a temper tantrum. They need to grow up and learn that their actions put them where they are now and they can't keep blaming everyone else.

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Re: What happens if someone like Snowden leaks the SOP? Does it negate the SOP?

Quite possibly YES, which is why what he did was not whistleblowing but treason. But id ten t's like you won't admit that.

As far as these so called peaceful protests against police, I have yet to see reports of one that didn't kill or injure people. So in point of fact it IS starting to look to me like the BART police did the right thing no matter how much it offends you. The crap they're been pulling in Baltimore backs me up on this. You can stop alleged police brutality by replacing it with mob violence. That's reversing the Greek myth of the creation of trial by jury.

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why are the lawyers arguing over the word ANY?

By their own admission, clause 7F states " exemption 7F of the act, which states records do not have to be disclosed where release..." Well as it happens, the EFF aren't asking for any records, they are asking for the text of the SOP itself.

ianal but as I read 7F, it is a means for public servants to hide their responsabilty for actions such as the BART incident, not a means of hiding the predefined procedure.

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Cats already out of the bag

The very fact that such procedures are known to exist mean that any half way informed terrorist will plan around it. Cell network can be shut down? Well, just use shortwave radio instead.

The only real reason not to release the text is that it's likely ludicrously easy for anyone to get the ball rolling to have the networks shut down.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cats already out of the bag

So what happens when the Army starts blanket jamming, you're out of suicide agents and your transport is not very punctual, meaning a timer cannot be relied upon?

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Re: Cats already out of the bag

If they're blanket jamming, the cell signals won't get through anyway.

And to propose an answer to your question: a long fuse?

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Re: Cats already out of the bag

Blanket jamming means you can't use a radio signal to set your package off, and you'll be too far away to do line of sight. If you have no suicidal people, no one will be there to set it off locally at the right time, and your fuse is just an analogue of the timer, which like I said is useless if the vehicle you place your package lacks any sort of time consistency (meaning your package is likely to explode off target). And note that blanket jamming can hide radio towers and geolocation satellites so location matching is out, too.

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IT Angle

Project Octopuss

Oh, that would concentrate all traffic of interest near WiFi spots, coming through maybe eight service vendors - Viber, WhatsApp, etc... Skype too... :-) You just press the pad and relax in a chair. What a beautiful bunch of novel behavioral tech we have around just at the beginning of the 3000s!

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But if the Iranians or Egyptians

or any other "Arab Spring" country were to do this, American Politicos would be first to complain about lack of free speech.

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Anonymous Coward

land of the free

I guess the US government is jealous of all the middle east despots being able to shut down the peons communications on a whim and wants in on that action.

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Umm

What about satellite phones? Or 'ham radio', or even e-mail? There is no reason to suppose that the bomb, if quite powerful, could not be connected to the old fashioned wired network.

As for the question: "why is such a powerful tool designed so poorly that simply knowing its broad details would enable someone to undermine it?"

When the mathematician Kurt Godel was being inducted into USA citizenship, the presiding officer welcomed him noting that he was fleeing from a dictatorial regime to a country which could never be a dictatorship. Godel rose and stated that having studied the US Constitution, he could state exactly how the USA could become a dictatorship. (Godel's supporters told him to 'shut up'.) I have rarely come across political procedues which were both sound and complete (in the mathematical logic sense of the terms), so don't expect '303 to be.

The real question neither side has raised is how they judge whether more lives will be a risk of harm with or without the cellphone signals. They can be used to summon emergency services to fires, critically injured people, or crimes in progress (I did), of which use I presume the forces of law and order would approve.

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