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    Washington Times: DHS emergency power extended, including control of private telecom systems

    The Washington Times reports on a new executive order from President Obama, “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions,” and how it could affect individuals’ use of telecommunications services such as cellphones, wireless and telephone communications:

    The Obama administration has given the Department of Homeland Security powers to prioritize government communications over privately owned telephone and Internet systems in emergencies.

    An executive order signed June 6 “gives DHS the authority to seize control of telecommunications facilities, including telephone, cellular and wireless networks, in order to prioritize government communications over private ones in an emergency,” said Amie Stephanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

    The White House says Executive Order 13618, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, is designed to ensure that the government can communicate during major disasters and other emergencies and contains no new authority.

    “The [order] recognizes the creation of DHS and provides the Secretary the flexibility to organize the communications systems and functions that reside within the department as [she] believes will be most effective,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email. “The [order] does not transfer authorities between or among departments.”

    She said the order replaced one originally signed in 1984 by President Reagan and amended in 2003 by President George W. Bush after DHS was set up and took responsibility for emergency response and communications. […]

    At issue is a provision of the four-page order that says Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano “shall … satisfy [federal] priority communications requirements through the use of commercial, government, and privately owned communications resources.”

    “The previous orders did not give DHS those authorities over private and commercial networks,” Ms. Stepanovich said. “That’s a new authority.”

    Read the full article for the White House’s response to Stepanovich’s comment about the “new authority” and the legal basis of the authority.

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