Group criticizes gov’t move shutting down cellphone signals during events
An advocacy group has expressed concern over the decision of Philippine authorities to shut down cell sites during huge festivities and major events and called for transparency on the guidelines followed by the government before resorting to signal jamming.
The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) said that Internet shutdowns, including signal jamming, “restrict people’s right to communicate.”
“Without any transparent basis in shutting down cell sites, authorities can abuse their capability to strip the general public of their right to communicate. The masses are convinced to compromise their right to expression for their security when there is no clear need for a tradeoff,” the FMA said in a statement Thursday night.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has recently approved the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) request to shut down mobile services in time for the Dinagyang festival in Iloilo on weekend. This will cause mobile features such as phone calls, short message service, and access to mobile data to be impossible in select areas.
This was not the first time such move was implemented. In January 2018 alone, the government shut down mobile networks during the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene, the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, and the Ati-atihan Festival in Aklan.
The first known mobile network shutdown in the Philippines was during the Papal visit in 2015. Since then, signal jamming has been frequently used as a go-to security mechanism for large events, citing public safety as the main concern, the FMA pointed out.
Other known cases include festivals such as Sinulog 2017, Dinagyang 2017, Hermosa 2016, MassKara 2017, Feast of the Black Nazarene 2017, and other events such as the swimsuit portion of Miss Universe 2017, and Palarong Pambansa 2017.
FMA noted there is lack of evidence proving that mobile network shutdown contributes to security. The fact that bigger events such as ASEAN was conducted safely even without shutting down cell sites show that the police and authorities are capable enough to maintain security without resorting to internet or mobile network shutdown.
“It appears that shutting down communication networks is becoming the norm,” the group said.
FMA emphasized that stripping the general public of their means to communicate restricts them from contacting emergency services, authorities, and each other; paralyzes their businesses and jobs; and further places them at risk.
“Sacrificing access to basic services, as well as the fundamental right to communicate, in the name of purely hypothetical benefits fails the test of necessity and proportionality,” it noted.
The group said the authorities should have “a clearer policy or set of guidelines for implementing these mobile network shutdowns” before resorting to signal jamming.
“Authorities must be transparent in their protocol on who can ask for, when to ask for, how long, and how wide the implementation of the mobile network shutdown will be. Shutting down cell sites should only be the last resort and not the default security measure,” FMA said.
“However, when the need to resort to signal jamming arises, the public always needs to be informed, as they suffer the most from these shutdowns. Authorities must also ensure that emergency services can be accessed despite communication restrictions,” it added. /jpv
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