Telecommunications Drug Enforcement Act of 1995

March 19, 1995, posted by Frank Lofaro to the Usenet news group

HR 185, the Telecommunications Drug Enforcement Act of 1995 would mandate that the courts order the disconnection and/or refusal of mobile phone service to anyone the Federal or a State government can show probable cause that said person is involved in drug trafficking.

A conviction is not needed, just the same standard used to give a search warrant. Probable cause is quite easy to prove. One anonymous tip often does the trick. When the government gets that, they can compel any public or private carrier to disconnect and/or refuse service. Basically the government can just order anyone's service turned off and/or refused. With the probable cause standard it is quite easy (trivial in fact) for them to at least temporarily get anyone off the air that the government does not like, or is communicating anything the government does not want communicated. The bill says people can still pursue remedies to get service restored or any government mandated refusals lifted, but that could take a very long time, up to (possibly even beyond) the length of a trial. During all this time, an innocent person could be denied mobile service.

Consider that this would also effect mobile Internet sites (they still need to use mobile communications). Consider that this would open the door for expansion beyond just mobile services. Consider that this could very well be the first step to the mandating of an off switch in every network hookup that the government could flip any time they felt something was obscene, threatened national security, was used in drug trafficking, or was something they did not like.

Remember, probable cause does not require due process! Consider that the government could cut service if they even thought such transmission was likely to occur in the near future. You could start saying something controversial and get cut off, courtesy of Big Brother. And anyone refusing to implement such a cut off mechanism or trying to bypass or prevent such a block would be prosecuted, probably for a felony (long prison, government takes half your rights away for life).

Editor's notes: A reader noted that "probable cause" means "articulatable facts which by themselves would lead an ordinary person of prudence to believe that a crime has occurred and that a specific person has committed, or is about to commit a crime."

The main points of the above message are still relevant -- probable cause is not being used in this case to get a search warrant, but to cut off a person from telecommunications access in a society where that is becoming increasingly important. A central concept of our legal system is that the higher the stakes, the greater the burden of proof is on the state. Probable cause is enough for a search warrant, but not for the death penalty. Taking away liberties, such as being able to communicate freely, should only be done upon conviction of a crime.

Also, I haven't confirmed it, but I'm pretty sure this bill went nowhere. This information is still useful though, as a sign to where things might be headed.