State and local agencies in California will need a court order before interfering with electronic communications by the public under a law signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, a response to BART's cutoff of cell phone service during a 2011 protest at a San Francisco station.
Beginning in January, SB380 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), will prohibit an agency like BART from shutting down a public communications network without a court order. It would not apply in life-threatening emergencies.
The legislation was prompted by the transit system's decision to cut off underground cell phone service at Civic Center Station for three hours during an August 2011 demonstration against the fatal police shooting of a homeless man, Charles Hill. Last week a federal magistrate dismissed a wrongful-death suit by Hill's family and said the shooting was justified because Hill was throwing a knife at the officer.
Padilla's office said the transit agency did not oppose the legislation.
"During an emergency, shutting down cell service prevents the public from being able to call 911, receive emergency wireless alerts, and locate family members," Padilla said in a statement. "It can also impair first responders' ability to communicate."
Padilla sponsored a bill with most of the same provisions last year, but Brown vetoed it, saying the exemption for emergencies was too narrow and would require officers to spend time justifying communications shutdowns instead of saving lives.
The senator redrafted SB380 to make it easier for police to declare an emergency and to specify that a court order would not be needed before cutting off communications services in a hostage situation. After an emergency shutdown, an agency would have up to 24 hours to seek after-the-fact judicial approval.
Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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