The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has given the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security 15 days to explain why it cannot reveal further details about its contingency plan (SOP 303) to shut cell service to localities and potentially entire regions.
The court order comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) when DHS failed to fully respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2011. EPIC’s original request to DHS came after authorities shut down the cell service in the San Francisco subway system during a protest.
EPIC asked DHS to release the document that gives the agency the authority to take this action. DHS responded to the request by turning over a highly redacted document for a procedure called SOP 303. The plan was adopted by DHS following the 2005 subway attacks in London, during which terrorists used cellphone signals to activate bombs.
When DHS refused to turn over more details about the program, EPIC sued the department and won at the district court level, but lost when DHS appealed the ruling to the DC Circuit Court.
The court ruled this past February that a FOIA exemption applies if the government determines that releasing the information “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”
EPIC next petitioned the DC Circuit Court to revisit the case En Banc, meaning that all the justices of the court, rather than the normal three justice panel, will rehear the case.
The DC Circuit Court order to DHS on Friday indicates that EPIC and the American public may yet get further details about the SOP 303 plan.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom