San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

Summary: Part of San Francisco's subway system's cell and wireless service was cut off amid a rising protest. Civil rights and liberties groups are furious; the FCC is 'concerned'.

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BART -- the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system -- is embroiled in a civil rights dispute, after it asked operators to shut down cell and wireless service in four downtown San Francisco subway stations, amid an upcoming protest.

Activists had planned to protest the fatal shooting of a member of the public by a BART police officer last Sunday.

To avoid a "civil disturbance during commute times" and "platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions", BART opted to shut down the cell and wireless networks, after it was discovered that social media and phones were being used to organise the demonstration.

In a statement on the BART website:

"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."

Civil rights campaigners and civil liberties groups are particularly concerned regarding the possibility that this affected First Amendment constitutional rights.

BART makes clear that: "No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms."

In short, as one publication put it: once you're through the fare gates, "free speech isn't so free".

Senior staff attorney, Kevin Bankston with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a crucial member of the global civil rights and liberties campaign, highlighted that while BART did not employ phone blocking and jamming mechanisms -- methods prohibited by the FCC -- he had hoped and expected "that the FCC would have some serious questions for BART".

However, hacktivist group Anonymous, has already started promoting 'Operation BART' on Twitter, suggesting the group could plan and action hacks against the subway system's websites or operations.

This comes only days after British prime minister suggested the shutting down of cell and wireless services in areas affected by mass rioting.

London, and other major cities in the United Kingdom, was besieged by rioting over the past week, leading to a number of deaths and millions of pounds of damage.

Industry partners, including Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, will meet with the British home secretary shortly to discuss its roles and responsibilities during the riots.

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Topics: Mobility, Government, Government US

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71 comments
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  • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

    When your protest stops me from going to work, your right to free speech affects my free speech.
    Protest those who have wronged you but take care to not hurt the bystanders. Allowing a flash mob in an underground station is a very bad idea.
    waasoo
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      You're absolutely correct!!! You want to protest, go get a permit!
      gcheris
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      Not just the public transportation: Private security in Malls would prefer some notice before a flash mob takes place.
      mschafer555
      • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

        @mschafer555 While we are at it, why don't we require arsonists to notify the fire department before they set forest fires, too?
        mejohnsn
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      @waasoo Yep! The right to free speech does not impose any obligation on anyone else to listen and the right to assemble does not include the right to impede the rights of others NOT to assemble but rather go about their own business.
      Lazarus439Z
  • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

    Speech and assembly are protected rights. And while direct action and civil disobedience are not protected and may get people sent to jail and maybe disrupt your morning drive, it's a normal and healthy part of a functioning democracy.
    rgcustomer@...
    • I think more of those arrested should be prosecuted

      @rgcustomer@...
      30 days in jail plus a criminal record should deter most of the would-be martyrs.

      And no, disorderly conduct is neither free speech, nor a normal part of a functioning democracy. If you have something to say, then say it, but don't harass the innocent.
      John L. Ries
      • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

        @John L. Ries Heh;) Whenever I hear such a line, "don't harass the innocent", I remember the 19th century French terrorist telling the court, "There are no innocent bougeoisie".

        Now I don't really recommend repeating his line or his attitude. But I do expect that the modern day counterpart, even non-terrorist counterpart, will answer your concern by pointing out that by standing by and doing nothing while all of our civil rights are being eroded, they are NOT "innocent".
        mejohnsn
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      @rgcustomer@...

      Ya know, if you take out the "civil disturbance" stuff and only mention that the cell and wireless service was shutdown, this wouldn't even make the news. How is turning off a service endangering rights? I do not see how that took away the right to free speech and assembly.
      puterami@...
      • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

        @puterami@... Well, but just because you do not see how, does not mean that it didn't take away free speech.
        mejohnsn
    • Sorry to inform you...

      @rgcustomer@... we're not part of a healthy, normal functioning democracy. Besides, your "right" to swing your arm is no longer a "right" when it meets my nose - if you're intelligent enought to follow the analogy. If not, I'll explain - the "right" to assembly & "free speech" stops when it affects those who are not part of that activity - you do not have a "right" to obstruct my right to my own free speech without my explicit permission. Also, free wireless communication is not a "right", it is a privelege. If it is abused, it can & should be taken away - period!
      rmazzeo
  • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

    This sentence needs to be rewritten: ..."Activists had planned to protest the fatal shooting of a member of the public by a BART police officer on Thursday....". <br><br>So, was the man shot on Thursday? No, using the link in the article: <a href="http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-07-08/bay-area/29750147_1_bart-officer-police-officer-man-shot" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-07-08/bay-area/29750147_1_bart-officer-police-officer-man-shot</a> it reads, "...on the night of the shooting Sunday as being drunk and wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and military-style fatigue pants...." ah, he was shot Sunday not Thursday.

    So, without reading the linked article one is left to wonder, is the protest Thursday or was the shooting Thursday?
    BubbaJones_
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      @RicD_ You're right -- sorry, fixed.
      zwhittaker
      • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

        @zwhittaker
        Thank you for your reply and change. Please allow me a bit of humor; was the police officer's name 'last Sunday' :-)

        Perhaps it could be written: Activists had planned to protest last Sunday's fatal shooting of a member of the public by a BART police officer.

        Or,
        Because of last Sunday's fatal shooting of a member of the public, activists planned a Thursday protest.

        Okay, enough frivolity. Excuse me for butting in.

        Cordially,
        RicD
        BubbaJones_
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      @RicD_ And look at the date on that article. It is July 6!
      mejohnsn
  • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

    The propensity of governments to seek to control the free expression of their people is disgusting, whether in China or America...
    z2217
    • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

      @z2217 <br><br>The fact that idiots in this day and age have such an sense of entitlement that they feel they have a "right" to act like idiots is equally disgusting.<br><br>I mean "seek to control the free expression of their people"??? Really?<br><br>Why, exactly? Because those people couldn't get service? Let's not forget... they're in a maze of underground concrete tunnels; not to mention in one of two cities notorious for having the worst cell phone service. Steve Jobs himself singled SF out on it.<br><br>Now, all of the sudden it's a violation of their right to free speech? Please.<br><br>Maybe everyone complaining about this should a) get over themselves b) get rid of their sense of entitlement, and c) if they want to protest, be better organized. There have been far more influential protests for things far more important, without the use of cell phones, facebook, or the internet.<br><br>Of course, those people also had the sense not to protest something like the shooting of someone who went after a cop with a knife.
      UrNotPayingAttention
    • You have no understanding of free speech...

      @z2217 ...free wireless communication in a public place is not free speech. Any community has the right, & in this case, the responsibility, to shut off the ability to communicate electronically if it will cause a public safety hazard. Are you intelligent enough to know the difference between being allowed to access electronic communication in public as opposed to being able to speak freely in public? Think about it, maybe that light bulb will turn on...
      rmazzeo
    • Crybaby blues

      Some people have really been spoiled by technology.

      Wireless is not a right. It's a privilege BART provides to it's customers. They can turn it off whenever they feel like it.

      You're probably too young to remember the days before wireless when you had to wait until the next stop in order to make a phone call. Not everything revolves around the last few years of the 21st Century, ya know.
      ScorpioBlue
  • RE: San Francisco subway shuts off cell service to combat protest: Civil rights groups 'furious'

    I'm not quite understanding how their civil liberties were affected if their cell phones were shut off. They couldn't make calls or transfer data inside the BART system, nothing is stopping them from going outside to the street and making calls/using facebook. Cell phones are a service, not a right.
    LoverockDavidson