U.S. Government Has Secret Kill Switch for Communications

Someday, your cell phone and internet may suddenly go out, but it will have nothing to do with failing to pay your bills. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the President has the authority to shut down everyone’s internet and phone service in one fell swoop, reports Mother Jones.

Though it seems sinister, the government assures us that this “kill switch” capability is for our own protection. Developed during the George W. Bush administration, the plan is that the executive branch can turn off communication technology in the event of a mass emergency or terrorist attack.

Fortunately, one group is demanding a more thorough explanation. Wanting the government’s plan to be public knowledge, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) used the Freedom of Information Act to request documents pertaining to the kill switch. A high-ranking judge agreed that the organization’s request was valid and required that the Department of Homeland Security release pertinent documents this month. Courts subsequently extended the release date to January 13, giving the DHS more time to find a way around having to divulge anything.

EPIC hopes that the government will be forced to answer key questions about this emergency protocol like precisely how the technologies will be turned on and off, the potential duration of these outages and whether the DHS can use the kill switch at its own discretion without the president’s approval.

The government’s best argument for shutting down cell service is that cell phones can be used to remotely set off bombs, so disabling these phones is important for safety. However, the case is less clear for the internet. “I find it hard to imagine why an internet kill switch would ever be a good idea, short of some science fiction scenario wherein the network comes alive a la Terminator/Skynet,” said Harold Feld, a technology advocacy expert. “At this point, so much of our critical infrastructure runs on the internet that a ‘kill switch’ would do more harm than anything short of a nuclear strike. It would be like cutting off our own head to escape someone pulling our hair.”

What the government’s plan seemingly fails to take into account is that communication is essential, particularly in emergency situations. People not only are inclined to get in touch with loved ones, but also need the devices to learn the extent of the threat/how to protect themselves. Is the potential of inconveniencing the state’s enemies worth the lives that could have otherwise been spared had the public been able to access critical information?

In many ways, disabling communication technology is actually about the First Amendment. Just look at other countries that have triggered the kill switch on the internet. Syria eliminated the internet when its people rose up against its government. Egyptian leaders similarly blocked most internet and cellphone reception during the country’s protests against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Still, let’s not “other” the problem entirely. San Francisco is guilty of similar tactics. When a protest was planned after a BART police officer shot a homeless man, officials shut down all wireless service around the time of the rally to stop participants from effectively organizing and assembling.

Instead of seeing examples of how shutting down technology “protected” the people, recent history shows how governments can abuse the capability in order to suppress its people. Blocking communication is more likely a ploy for keeping citizens in line and uninformed. The free exchange of information is an essential part of transparency and safeguarding our liberties.

Hopefully, the Department of Homeland Security will be made to disclose its full intentions with the kill switch without all of the usual classified redactions.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

This is so wrong. We have a right to communications with others in a time of a disaster or national threat. We should not be kept in the dark about what is going on and not have our communications with others cut off.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

concerning to say the least

Olivia Lim
Olivia Lim4 years ago

A communications disruption can mean only one thing - invasion. (of our rights)

Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago

Nothing to say... who knows who's reading this! But thanks for the enlightening article.

Catherine D.
Catherine D4 years ago

The communication killswitch has already been utilized,
most notably in San Francisco.

When a protest was planned after a
BART police officer shot a homeless man,
officials shut down all wireless service around the time of the rally,
to stop participants from effectively organizing and assembling.

This behavior is a violation of the US Constitution, namely Amendment 1,
which guarantees the People's Right to peacefully assemble,
and to petition the Government for a redress of Grievances.

Stephen Gabriel
Stephen G4 years ago

I think if you commit yourself to looking into just what the US government and its agencies (let's say the Anglo-American Empire) has done (documented facts not just conspiracy theories) and is in the process of doing, then you realise that it's already too late to have any hope or faith in any administration of politicians and the compartmentalised public employees who do their dirty work. So driven by the love of money and power have they become that the welfare of us ordinary folk are of absolutely no concern to them whatsoever. They have infiltrated every sphere of society to the extent, I have no doubt, that petition and activism websites such as this one will, on some level, be under the influence of elements within government who are tasked to shift and manipulate public opinion by covert means. That's why we must be vigilant to what we are saying online and what may be behind certain petitions that appeal to our natural desire for justice. Having said that, well done to everyone who continues to try to do the right thing regardless of these diabolical people and the powers they increasingly give themselves at our expense.

Carol P.
Carol P4 years ago

The fact that there is a kill switch doesn't surprise me.

What really irks me is that so many people have handed over control of information to others without even realizing it, and the introduction of the "cloud" will only make this worse in the future.

Digital information = unsecured information that is not only in someone else's control (including corporations and hackers), but is also susceptible to things like power outages, which are sure to only get worse as the effects of global warming increase the frequency and power of storms. And that kill switch is already affecting all of us.

June Bostock
June Bostock4 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago