Calif. bill bars agencies from cellphone jamming

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(AP) – Government agencies would be barred from disrupting cellphone service ahead of expected protests if a bill approved by the California Legislature becomes law. SB 1160 would prevent any agency from disrupting cellphone service without first establishing probable cause and obtaining a court order.

Sen. Alex Padilla said he wrote the bill to protect public safety and basic freedoms. “Open and available communication networks are critical to public safety and a key element of a free and open society,” the Los Angeles Democrat said in a statement.

Officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system ignited a global debate over free speech last year when the agency cut cellphone and wireless data service in San Francisco subway stations to disrupt a planned protest.

Assembly members condemned that decision on Thursday and expressed hope that it would serve as a wakeup call to local agencies considering jamming cellphones.

“The dysfunction of the BART system is well known in my area,” said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. “The incident that generated this bill was widely reported on and resulted in people being dismissed for making such a bad call, such an undemocratic call.”

BART did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After some revisions in the Assembly, the bill now goes back to the Senate for final approval.

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