Boston Officials Allegedly Shut Down Mobile Service In Boston To Prevent Remote Detonation (Update: Or Not)

from the overreaction dept

Update:: People are now reporting that it was not an intentional shut down, despite reporters claiming officials told them this. Yet again… early reporting coming out of a crazy situation turns out to not be accurate.

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there were some explosions not too long ago in Boston at the end of the Boston Marathon. Not surprisingly, this has become the important (and horrifying) news story of the day. At a time like this, there generally isn’t that much news for us to report, because (1) others are doing it much better and (2) we’re just as much in shock as everyone else. However, there are now some reports that part of the response by police involved shutting down mobile phone service in the Boston area to “prevent any potential remote detonations of explosives.” I can certainly recognize the reasons for doing this, but it seems like an overreaction — especially at a time when coordinating with others via mobile phone can be so important.

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Comments on “Boston Officials Allegedly Shut Down Mobile Service In Boston To Prevent Remote Detonation (Update: Or Not)”

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86 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

There is nothing but chaos over there right now. Not much in the way of organization can happen.

Anyways, it has been verified that they brought down the towers for this no allegedly.

Let the police do what they need to, clear the bombs that are still around, and pray for everyone over there. Or donate. Blood, time, money if you can’t afford the others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: here we go again

I agree, if there is the possibility that a remote or cellular device could trigger a bomb then I completely agree with the government restricting cell phone usage until they are sure that the threat has been eliminated for safety purposes.

Also, it seems that cell phone usage may have been restricted here because too many people were trying to use their cell phones all at once and there is only so much signal bandwidth.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: here we go again

It’s called the Department of Homeland Security. Their budget was cut and they are generally the ones who get to say “we told you so” to assholes who complain about minor incidents in airports where they are held responsible for an individual’s actions rather than being cheered on for firing staff that violate people’s rights.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

People lining up to give up their rights

…and once again, people are lining up to give up their rights, explaining (as if they know anything) that the police MUST know something, otherwise why would they disable cellular communication AND begging the question and IMPLICITLY giving police that authority.

Boston PD does not have the authority to shut down cell towers. All they can do is “ask” the carriers to do so. All you who are sheepling in support of this are giving the police these draconian powers THEY DON’T RIGHTLY HAVE.

Let’s just add this: “But think of the children!” “If this only saves one life… it’s worth it.” It doesn’t, it won’t, and it isn’t.

The reason to give up your rights isn’t “because security” nor “because police” nor “because terrorism.” And for those who say “Too soon… let’s let them take away our rights in the name of security and we’ll review later…” there is no later. When you open Pandora’s box of giving LEP powers they don’t otherwise have, they _never_ give them back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: People lining up to give up their rights

Uh considering they found and dismantled other explosive devices before taking down the cell towers, I’d say they have a pretty good reason to.

Regardless, this is a pretty shitty time for you to be up on your soapbox calling people ‘sheeple’.

Also, nobody at any point in this story ANYWHERE said anything like “but think of the children” or your other quote, so you seem like an even bigger asshole than you would have otherwise. Step back, you are totally out of line.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: People lining up to give up their rights

What rights have people given up when the police take down mobile service to limit detonation of IED’s? I hope they have backup communications setup for emergencies. However, the time they took down service for protests are a different matter altogether.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Mike’s article said nothing of that nature at all

Huh? He says “it seems like an overreaction.” If he’s such an evidence-based guy who can’t form an opinion until he has perfect information, he was surely forming an opinion there based on little to no information.

You are an utterly broken human being. I mean that. You must have zero empathy to think that this was a remotely acceptable thing to post.

If they thought it necessary to disable phone service to prevent a bomb going off, then I support that decision, even if it turns out later to be wrong. How is that me having “zero empathy”? It’s not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

He’s the one suggesting that the officials may have overreacted without possibly having any foundation to make that observation upon. He doesn’t know what information they’re acting on. He doesn’t know their procedures are. He doesn’t know anything. It was just an empty “I’m smarter than they are!” post. Why does he even bother with such posts? It’s to remind us how great he is. The funniest part is, he had an opinion about something he knew nothing about, yet at other times, he berates anyone who has an unfounded opinion and pretends that he’s all about the evidence. Yeah, right. He’s got more unsubstantiated opinions than most.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Every post you have made has been “I am smarter than Mike” and projecting that same sentiment onto his article. That sentiment was not present in the article. Saying that something seems like an overreaction is a hell of a lot different from saying “I would do this perfectly”, which is what you are implying.

You are an utter fucking asshole and you continually display worrying mental issues through your comments badgering someone you have never met.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

…Mike voiced an opinion based on NOTHING, but then he claims to be Mr. Evidence-Based.

This statement is evidence of very limited intellectual ability on your part. If you think that the desire to state an opinion and the desire to find and present evidence are mutually exclusive traits then you’re just too dumb to participate.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

In response to the Boston bombings, police have shut down one of the most useful and commonly used services for victims and those close by to contact family and emergency services. They have shut down the ability for media to communicate easily with one another. Shutting down the cell services of the Boston area will do nothing but spur more panic and frustration at the scene and around those trying to contact loved ones. Imagine being a parent or spouse trying to contact someone you suspect as having been there and getting nothing but a “Your call cannot be connected” message.

Anonymous Coward says:

Update:: People are now reporting that it was not an intentional shut down, despite reporters claiming officials told them this. Yet again… early reporting coming out of a crazy situation turn out to not be accurate.

The irony of you claiming that they overreacted is priceless. We all know that had you been in charge in Boston, everything would have been done perfectly–just like you’ve demonstrated with this post. Sigh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In a situation such as this, it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction.

Honestly, when Mike wrote this, just about everybody was talking about the cell phones being shut down. I’m a bit unnerved though, just how plausible it seemed at the time.

Nonetheless, we need to be careful to not report on things until we are certain they are true, and not get carried away looking for a scoop. Thats how rumors like this start…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Exactly,

I think Mike certainly did his due diligence. Its the major news sources who screwed up on this one.

I was actually expecting a techdirt post on this, honestly I was a bit worried about the cell network being switched off on such short notice. That would probably scare a lot of people who could not contact their loved ones after this horrific act.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but at least, now we know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know either, people are so damn dumb.

I can’t believe some of the things that have been said in these comments.

Seems like whenever Mike writes an article, the trolls circle like vultures. Sometimes they start an interesting conversation, but here it is not only offensive and inappropriate, but disrespectful to those who have lost their lives.

Just follow my previous advice, don’t respond, click report and eventually their comments will be flagged.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The only thing I was hearing via the media was they had asked people to not make calls just for the sake of making calls, that the cell towers in the area were getting slammed.
Some reports (different stations) were that they were able to text people they had on the scene, but texts were not getting out.

I’m guessing that a spike in usage of the network screwed up service and people decided it had to be because it was ordered shut down rather than the obvious everyone was flooding the network.

If the reports of them having issues communicating with each other (first responders, investigators, etc.) then someone at DHS needs a beating. We spent billions to ready the country for an ‘attack’, we are kept on the edge of our seats in fear of, and when something horrific happens the system is just as broken as before we threw money at it to fix it.

Thankfully for the injured this took place close to the finish line where they had all sorts of medical staff on standby to help the runners.

Anonymous Coward says:

I just read an article that said the Boston cops didn’t have the cell towers shut down but rather it is as That Anonymous Coward thinks. That over loading of the cell phones with everyone suddenly calling everyone else was the reason for the outage.

They were asking that people that could in the area, to open their wifi to assist allowing communications.

Like everyone else, I think the troll has gone too far this time. His mental attitude and mental health is suspect.

Anonymous Coward says:

What has happened, has happened. I actually think it is a worthy discussion as to whether in such an emergency the authorities should have the ability to order/request cell service to be cut off.

Personally, if theres a fear that cell phones are being used as detonators I think it is perfectly legitimate. I understand that communication with loved ones would be disrupted but better that than a loved one die unnecessarily in a subsequent blast detonated by a cell phone. I think the suggestion that shutting down cell service was/would be an “overreaction” is a staggeringly stupid thing to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think the suggestion that shutting down cell service was/would be an “overreaction” is a staggeringly stupid thing to say.

Especially since it was based on no evidence whatsoever. Mr. Evidence-Based strikes again. At least we know how awesome he is. I almost forgot. The reminders really help.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: I Suspected These Reports Were Wrong

You really don’t have a clue what you are talking about do you. Each Carrier is assigned specific bandwidth with which to operate their cellular system. The phones must use the same bandwidth (frequencies) as the carrier. No phone is locked to a single discrete frequency, but rather frequency ranges as determined by:
1) the radio transiever(s) in the device
2) Antenna
3) Carrier

Detonators based on cell phones DO require communication through the cellular tower, if that communication is blocked because the cellular network is overloaded, then it won’t work.

Wally (profile) says:

Mike, here’s some journalistic advice on the DHS….

1. I these crisis situations….NEVER DOUBT THEM. Even if the shutdown was intentional, you have to keep in mind that they found and diffused two other bombs (one of which was at the JFK Library) that were set to go off by calling those numbers. They would have had to do a thorough job at searching for others throughout the city…which could take up to 4 hours.

2. Please no more reporting on this until the ENTIRE INVESTIGATION IS COMPLETE AS YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY AS A JOURNALIST NOT TO JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS CONCERNING THESE MATTERS.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

But you also claimed that there were no bombs diffused….they did dismantle 2 other bombs….

“Whatever the case, no bombs were “diffused” (obviously, or the JFK fire wouldn’t have happened).”

So when you say no bombs were diffused…do you somehow mean that the other two that did not go off due to the jammed cell phone network? I mean how can you not diffuse the bomb by dismantling them?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re:

” Please no more reporting on this until the ENTIRE INVESTIGATION IS COMPLETE AS YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY AS A JOURNALIST NOT TO JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS CONCERNING THESE MATTERS.”I certainly hope you intend to hold everyone to that standard. The initial investigation will take days, the full investigation will take months. So… No news (‘reporting’)about the incident for months, is that what you want?

First problem “reporting” isn’t a “Jump to conclusions”. Reporting is the act of relaying information about a specific event, not opinion. I suspect you would like for Mike not to editorialize, which is to make comments or express opinions rather than just report the news.

Tech Dirt is a blog which, in my opinion, is an appropriate venue to express opinion. If it weren’t there would be no need for comments either, since they are almost exclusively opinion. ;^)

Second, I don’t think Mike reached a ‘conclusion’ he said

“I can certainly recognize the reasons for doing this, but it *seems* like an overreaction — especially at a time when coordinating with others via mobile phone can be so important.”

(emphasis added) which is NOT a conclusion. Note the keyword “seems”, the definition of which is “Used to make a statement or description of one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions less assertive or forceful.”

“Mike, here’s some journalistic advice on the DHS….

1. I these crisis situations….NEVER DOUBT THEM….”

Right, we must never question authority, well at least when there is a crisis, they could never ‘get it wrong’. Give me a break. Look at the handling of Katrina by your beloved DHS. DHS like every other bureaucratic organization has a set of ‘Standard Operating Procedures’, which are intended to streamline the process based on PAST experience. (See 9/11, Katrina… for full details) This will never be a good way to handle a crisis (though it may be the best available way), since the crisis is generally not something that can be planned for, if it could be planned for it could be avoided.

Again, a blog is a perfect place to question DHS, current or proposed legislation or in fact any news of the day. It is the purpose of a blog to inform and in fact initiate a discussion or dialog.

“you have to keep in mind that they found and diffused two other bombs (one of which was at the JFK Library”

Gonna need a cite on that, because the news I have heard said the JFK incident was not related and they found one un-detonated bomb, not two. Nor have I heard any credible reporting that the bombs were triggered by cell phone. At a large event like the Boston Marathon, where the cellular phone system will likely be above capacity anyway it would not be wise to rely on cell phone technology for detonation of a device, especially if you are going to use it for detonation of multiple devices. After the first device detonates, the cellular network will most certainly be overwhelmed by people calling 911, trying to get a hold of friends and relatives to let them know they are ok…

In my opinion it was a lot more problematic for news agencies to inaccurately report that the JFK Library fire was a third bomb, when in fact it was an unrelated incident.

“They would have had to do a thorough job at searching for others throughout the city…which could take up to 4 hours.”

Where exactly did you get 4 hours? It would take days to search for bombs “throughout the city” and that is if you ignored residential areas. You would need to search public buildings, trash cans, vehicles, sewers…

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Mr. Applegate please save your goddamned breath. I would love Mike to editorialize all he wishes. I’m just asking that he waits until the full statement.

Also, it’s the DHS’s job to investigate these matters and by not having rots fly around from editorializing and speculation they can due their job. It has recently been discovered that the bombs were made from pressure cookers….that’s just from the fragments.

Mr.Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I fully understand it is DHS’ job to investigate. However, I disagree that one should blindly follow whatever they say. (i.e. “NEVER DOUBT THEM” [your words])

DHS will tell us exactly what they want us to hear and no more. It may / may not be factual and / or complete.

Look at the US invasion of Iraq, we were told Irag had WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and we must go in to protect the world. What did we learn?

1) No WMD
2) We pretty much destroyed the country
3) We sent the country into a civil war
4) When the mess we created became to costly (in lives) to clean up we left. Leaving the Iraqi people to clean up the mess we created. In fact Iraq is probably more of a threat now, than it was when we invaded.

Any government agency is going to follow the agenda of the country leaders. Only a fool would believe everything they say. (and the current leadership is no better than the previous one)

Our government is now so focused on ‘pre-crime’ [yes a Minority Report reference] that they no longer wait for a county (or their own people) to act and they just go in guns blazing. That is both literally (as in Iraq) and figuratively (as in taking down websites, obsessing over copyright infringement, doing whatever corporate America tells them to do, denying people the right to be innocent until proven guilty…).

I will not blindly follow DHS or any government agency, nor will I stay silent.

Slicerwizard says:

Wally, you're a god damn liar

“Mike, here’s some journalistic advice on the DHS….
I (sic) these crisis situations….NEVER DOUBT THEM.”

Bullshit.

“Text on SMS gets jammed when voice gets jammed.”

No, SMS and voice use separate portions of the bandwidth.

“With cell phone detonators you cannot take that chance because the detonation relies on the specific radio frequency of the device rather than the voice message or phone number.”

More outright lies. Detonation is triggered by calling the specific device *by its phone number*. Cellular devices don’t have radio frequencies unique to each device. What a tard you are…

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