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Jerry Brown considers limits on agencies blocking cellphone service

GetprevGov. Jerry Brown is considering whether to prohibit government agencies in California from blocking cellphone service without a court order, a year after the Bay Area Rapid Transit took that action to head off disruptive protests at one of its stations.

A bill approved by the Legislature and sent to the governor this week would prevent disruption of cellphone and Wi-Fi service unless there are life-threatening circumstances, in which case the agency would be allowed to go to court after a shutdown.

"For decades, California law has required a court order to interrupt or shut down traditional telephone service," said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), whose SB 1160 would extend the protections to the modern telecommunication networks.

"Open and available communication networks are critical to public safety and a key element of a free and open society," Padilla said. He agreed to amend the bill to allow shutdowns in cases where lives are at risk.

Officials say the bill, if it had been law, would have prevented BART officials from acting in August 2011 to shut down cellphone and Wi-Fi service to riders at its Civic Center station to discourage the organizing of a disruptive protest over the fatal shooting of a man by transit police.

"I don’t know that that last situation would have met that [bill’s] criteria" said Jim Allison, a BART spokesman.

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--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) won legislative approval of a bill to ban agencies from blocking cellphone and Wi-Fi usage in public. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times

 
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