A federal appeals court is asking the Obama administration to explain why the government should be allowed to keep secret its plan to shutter mobile phone service during "critical emergencies."
The Department of Homeland Security came up with the plan—known as Standing Operating Procedure 303—after cellular phones were used to detonate explosives targeting a London public transportation system.
SOP 303 is a powerful tool in the digital age, and it spells out a "unified voluntary process for the orderly shut-down and restoration of wireless services during critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices."
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in February sided (PDF) with the government and ruled that the policy did not need to be disclosed under a Freedom of Information Act request from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The court agreed with the government's citation of a FOIA exemption that precludes disclosure if doing so "could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual."
EPIC asked the court to revisit its ruling, arguing that the decision, "if left in place, would create an untethered 'national security' exemption'" in FOIA law. On Friday, the court ordered (PDF) the government to respond—a move that suggests the appellate court might rehear the case.