SACRAMENTO -- Government agencies will have to get a court order before they can shut down cellphone service to a public location under a bill signed Thursday by the governor.
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) introduced the measure in response to an August 2011 incident in which the Bay Area Rapid Transit District shut down wireless service for three hours at four of its stations in San Francisco to head off a planned demonstration.
The action drew criticism from civil rights groups and others that it deprived thousands of BART riders of the ability to call 911 if things had gone awry.
Critics also compared the action to similar measures used by oppresive governments to quell peaceful protests.
California has long required a court order to interrupt traditional telephone service. "Open commuinication networks are critical to public safety and a key element of a free society," Padilla said.The bill requires government agencies to show there is probable cause of “serious, direct and immediate danger" to get a court order. If the emergency is extreme and there isn’t time to go to court, the agency then would have to obtain an order within six hours of the shutdown if possible.