Doubtful block on cell phone use in new york tunnels

The U.S. Department of Justice is pushing for standards to be set up so that Internet use aboard airplanes can be intercepted in a matter of minutes

After the London bombings, the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York shut down the cell phone network in the tunnels going into Manhattan. As a result, cell phones could not be used in the Holland, Midtown, Lincoln and Battery tunnels. The precautionary measure is based on the fact that the Madrid attackers used cell phones to detonate the bombs. In addition, passengers are being asked in a campaign to watch out for abandoned luggage or bags.

Meanwhile, although the MTA has lifted the closure, the Port Authority has not yet for the Lincoln and Holland Tunnel. Police contradicted the MTA’s account that it did not order the lockdown because no call was needed in Madrid to find the bomb. The assassins had used the alarm clock integrated in the cell phones for this purpose. Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, challenged the takedown, which was apparently carried out by the two authorities without consultation with other authorities. Bloomberg said the ability to use cell phones in tunnels brings more benefits than drawbacks.

The blocking was initiated by the Port Authority, whose director explained that it was a measure taken after the attacks in Madrid. People had to do what they thought was necessary, and different authorities could order different security measures. The train tunnels were not affected by the cell phone blockade.

Even before the London bombings, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security had jointly petitioned the Federal Communication Commission to create the legal means to prevent the use of cell phones and the Internet on airplanes for counterterrorism purposes. Terrorists could use Internet services on airplanes to detonate bombs in the cargo hold remotely or on board or to coordinate attack plans, for example, with assassins on other planes. In the justification it says that there can be a small window to prevent a plane hijacking by suicide bombers or to fix other crises on board a plane: "Law enforcement must maximize its ability to respond to these potentially deadly situations."

The Department of Justice wants to extend the CALEA law to all forms of telecommunications and thus require Internet providers, as well as telephone providers, to set up standardized interfaces for the FBI to intercept data. The FCC has already agreed to this. The law passed in 1994 referred only to telephone operators and explicitly excluded the Internet. The Justice Department is also particularly interested in the possibility of monitoring broadband connections and thus VoIP (Voice-over-IP) more easily. This, of course, resulted in considerable costs for the providers, and the network had to be rebuilt according to the wishes of the FBI. Even now, Internet traffic and communication can be monitored with a judicial warrant, but it is a more cumbersome and technically complex process than with established monitoring standards, which allow for immediate interception.

For cell phone and internet use aboard airplanes, the Justice Department also wants to make it possible to tap out within ten minutes at the latest, after the FBI has transmitted the authorization. In addition, providers will be forced to design their networks in such a way that each user can also be quickly and automatically identified by name and seat number. In addition, individual or all users can be blocked or communication to or from the aircraft can be diverted. This was the case of every aircraft in the American airspace. All wireless telecommunication links from aircraft in U.S. airspace also had to pass through Mobile Switching Centers located in U.S. territory.

The FCC should also require, although this is not covered by CALEA, that any cell phone or Internet use to or from aircraft can be monitored and stored – at least the call data – by a ground station located in U.S. territory, even if they are near U.S. airspace. Here, too, it should be possible to record names and seats and block access. Devices in the cargo hold should remain inaccessible for any kind of telecommunication to prevent bombs from being detonated by cell phones or other means.

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