Obama grants DHS power to takeover commercial, private communications in emergency

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Should disaster strike the U.S., the secretary of Homeland Security will be in charge of re-establishing and prioritizing communications to ensure the continuation of the federal government, according to a new executive order from President Barack Obama.

The executive order, signed on Friday, once again expands the powers of the Department of Homeland Security — this time to include the handling of communications during a national security event or natural disaster. The order also allows for DHS to re-establish communications “through the use of commercial, government, and privately owned communications resources, when appropriate.”

The secretary of homeland security, in coordination with the secretary of defense, would also “serve as the federal lead for the prioritized restoration of communications infrastructure and coordinate the prioritization and restoration of communications, including resolution of any conflicts in or among priorities.”

In addition to further empowering DHS’ role in the federal government, the order also establishes several new committees and outlines the roles of various major executive branch agencies and offices, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, DHS, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, General Services Administration and the Federal Communications Commission.

The federal government already has its own emergency communications network — the National Communications System (NCS). First established by executive order during the Reagan administration, the NCS allows members of the federal government to communicate during emergencies by piggy backing off of private networks such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and various regional carriers. In 2003, the executive order that established NCS was extended to include cell phones.

The recent executive order also came days before public safety agencies across the country were to begin interoperability testing of equipment for the new national public safety LTE network (a high-speed mobile network), which will allow public safety officials to communicate over a national modern broadband network in the event of a crisis. The network will allow public safety officials to send and receive high-quality mobile data, such as video.

A knock-down, drag-out battle ensued for several years over the reallocation of prized spectrum for the development of the network as part of a result of the 9/11 Commission. A majority of the funding for the $7 billion network was established by Congress in February, with the network rollout estimated to begin next year.

DHS did not return The Daily Caller’s request for comment by the time of publication.

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