Terrorism fears won't close mobile networks

Reports that UK security forces want mobile phone networks disabled during President Bush's visit to stop terrorists using them to detonate a bomb have been denied by mobile operators

Following reports in the national press, mobile operators have denied that they will be closing down parts of their networks in London during President Bush's state visit to Britain this week.

The Times claimed on Tuesday that UK security chiefs are considering shutting down all mobile phone signals near Bush as he travels around the capital during his trip, in case terrorists try to use a mobile phone to detonate a bomb.

But according to mobile operator mmO2, which runs the three base stations nearest to Buckingham Palace, where the president is staying, the government and the security services aren't planning such a drastic move.

"These stories aren't true. We have not been approached by the security forces and asked to turn off any parts of our network" an mmO2 spokesman told ZDNet UK.

The mmO2 spokesman added that the government has actually asked mobile phone network operators to downplay the idea as it isn't under consideration.

Vodafone has also confirmed that it isn't aware of any plans to close down selected parts of mobile phone networks in London, but did explain that such action could be enforced if those in authority felt it was necessary. "The government does have the power, in a national emergency, to take over key infrastructure such as telecommunciations networks," a Vodafone spokeswoman explained. "However, we aren't aware of any such plans and there have been no contingency meetings here," she added.

There's no doubt, though, that mobile phones are being used to detonate explosives. The terrorist attacks on Jakarta this summer, and Bali last autumn, were both triggered by mobile phones, according to police investigating the bombings.

Security experts also claim that the Israeli security service killed a Palestinian bomb-maker in 1996 by rigging a mobile with a small pack of explosives. Once the mobile was in the right hands, it was just a case of sending the correct text message to set off an explosion.

Security levels have been raised across London in an attempt to avoid any attacks on the US president. A total of 14,000 police officers will be on duty during the visit, making it the biggest and most expensive security operation yet seen in Britain.