BART Jams Cell Phone Service to Shut Down Protests

BARTstation.jpg
No-speech zone?
This might just be a first in the annals of Bay Area transit agencies' political suppression (such as those annals are). BART has fessed up to jamming cell-phone signals yesterday at downtown stations in San Francisco in order to disrupt protests over the death of Charles Hill, who was shot by BART police on July 3.

Here is what BART had to say in a statement on its tactics that was released today:

Organizers planning to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011 stated they would use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police. A civil disturbance during commute times at busy downtown San Francisco stations could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators. BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.

CNet reported that cell service was interrupted at four SF stations, and that BART acted unilaterally, only informing mobile-service providers after the fact.

Of course, BART's move drew immediate howls from advocates of free speech and civil liberties. Here is what the ACLU of Northern California had to say in a blog post:

All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, saying it's anti democratic and a violation of the right to free expression and assembly. Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

SF Appeal is reporting that some experts are calling for the FCC to look into BART's actions.

Regardless of one's personal stance on government's power to impede free communication among its citizens -- and BART seems to have taken great liberties with that power, to say the least -- this reaction to protests seems boneheaded on a few levels.

For instance, isn't it a terrible idea to cut off law-abiding passengers' contact with the outside world at a time when potentially violent protests are taking place? What if somebody wanted to call 911, only to discover that he was unable to because of BART's effort to suppress demonstrators?

It's also a terrible PR move. In the aftermath of a controversial officer-involved fatal shooting, BART probably doesn't want to invite comparison with the likes of, say, Hosni Mubarak. But that is exactly what it has done.

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Phone System
Phone System

Good move for BART. At least they tried to weaken the protest without hurting anybody.

Clown Whisper
Clown Whisper

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

phone service
phone service

It would be better if BART jams mobile phones from the protesters and not to jam the mobile phone service for it will also distrupt cellphone signals from those who are not protesters.

Sallysgranma
Sallysgranma

BART is taking it's power, far to seriously and this 60+y.o. American grandmother does not approve of their 'out-of-control and questionable snap judgements.  This does not feel right and it does not make me feel safe or further more want to ride BART. 

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

You can call BART and tell them what you think.  I pledge never to ride BART again.  I don't like the East Bay anyway and this is another reason not to go there.  AC Transit takes a long time but the view is great.  I don't trust that ancient system in an earthquake and I certainly don't trust those badly trained "cops" at all.  Fire the entire department and then replace them with cops who got laid off from REAL police departments.  Sorry, but back in my day, any cop who couldn't handle a middle aged drunk with words and at most a nightstick was simply considered unfit for the job. 

Marlowb
Marlowb

Its WAY to much of a "Big Brother" attitude for me to stomach regardless of the rationale.......

SFCitizen
SFCitizen

I guess BART's story now is that they turned off the antennas on their property. In that way, they "jammed" service, but they didn't use cell phone jammers. 

I suppose that they don't have to allow antennas down there at all, if BART didn't want to... 

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

And if they don't want any cell phone service, they can do so, but I'm sure their CUSTOMERS wouldn't much care for it.  But if I were running that loose a ship, I wouldn't want too may witnesses posting videos. 

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