S.F. subway system admits cutting cellphone service to stop planned protest
Demonstrators shut down a BART station in July to protest the shooting death of 45-year-old Charles Hill.
August 13th, 2011
07:36 PM ET

S.F. subway system admits cutting cellphone service to stop planned protest

In a controversial move that has riled up free speech advocates, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system said it cut off cellphone signals at “select” stations in response to a planned protest this week.

“BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform,” the transit agency said in a statement on its website Friday.

BART said it took the actions because protesters said they “would use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police.”

Demonstrators had planned a rally to bring attention to a number of transit police officer shootings, the latest one resulting in the death of 45-year-old Charles Hill, who was shot last month after a confrontation with officers.

The transit agency said protests during rush hour endangered the safety of commuters and employees.

“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,” the agency said.

The incident happened Thursday, the same day that British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a crackdown on social media to quell riots.

"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media," Cameron said Thursday during an address to Parliament. "Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them."

Protesters in San Francisco have used websites and social media to organize demonstrations, including a rally last month that shut down a subway stop.

On Saturday, a BART director said the cellphone shutdown was not authorized by higher-ups and was under investigation, according to the Bay Citizen newspaper. “This is a transit agency, and our job is not to censor people,” BART official Lynette Sweet was quoted as saying.

The ACLU also denounced the cellphone shutdown, likening it to strong-arm tactics used by other governments.

“Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it’s halfway around the world or right here at home,” the ACLU of Northern California said on its website.

The petition site, Care2.com, started an online petition titled “BART: Stay Out of Our Cell Phone Service!” On Saturday evening the site had more than doubled its signature goal of 1,000.

Also the hacktivist group Anonymous said it would be targeting BART on Monday to retaliate, several news sites reported Saturday.

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Filed under: Crime • Justice • San Francisco • U.S.
soundoff (486 Responses)
  1. world press

    YOUR ALL NARCISSITIC PARISITES, YOUR GOVERNMENT IS PATHETIC, YOUR WIFE WAS GOOD IN BED TONIGHT WHILE YOU RAVED ELSEWHERE!! LUNATICS!!

    August 14, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. jazz

    What the last guy said...WHAT IF we took BACK our COUNTRY and HELD it up to the STANDARDS it SHOULD have, like EGYPT did a few months ago...BLOCKWATCH ARMED themselves thats how bad it was over there. They held people ACCOUNTABLE....where are those people in this pussificated society?

    August 14, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. Eywa Has Heard You Robert. The Sky People Are Coming..

    @Robert: Get a frigging life. The guy posted as Jehova and since he posted in English and not Hebrew, or Chinese then he should have spelled it accordingly. Btw It was a stupid joking banter that you have just decided to waste your life on. How does it feel to be a tool?

    August 14, 2011 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. BobNAlabama

    Ignorance reigns supreme...y'all!

    August 14, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  5. Eywa Has Heard You Robert. The Sky People Are Coming..

    @1Fender: God will plague you with being a perpetual virginal internet troll for the rest of your days. You will never feel the touch of a woman and all your money will be spent on adult movies, Vaseline, acne meds, and Chicken Little magazine subscriptions.. Oops too late. You have officially been cursed.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Sharp

      Will prolly go blind from self pleasuring too.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. scott

    Your 'rights' must always be balanced against the safety of OTHERS.

    OTHERS...not YOU. I know the heat of self-centeredness is a wonderful drug, but in public there is more than you, or your political group, or your pet, or your rally.

    Stop wearing masks. Stop wearing hoodies. You keep accusing the cops of hiding behind masks, and then do it yourselves ( ti's always justified when YOU do it, eh? – of course! ).

    You're bored and unemployed. Yeah. We get that. So are the rest of us!!

    Grow up and get a pair. Stop 'demanding' your rights and try EARNING them. No job? Wash car windows, help old people run errands, DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO SUPPORT YOURSELF.

    But for god sakes, stop allowing yourselves to be incited and stop pretending you have some higher moral cause than 'the authorities' or 'the man'.

    'The man' is, yes....DUHHHH...there to protect you until you become a man, or woman, yourself. Temper tantrums in public transit systems are NOT 'growing up' nor are they 'fighting' for anything whatsoever.

    I cannot believe some of our sons and daughters have died or are coming home wounded, traumatized, and their youth faded...but they did so for a TRULY noble idea: the idea of OTHERS.

    Now, tell me how preventing people from getting home from work, so you can whine, is doing something FOR OTHERS.

    Can't wait to hear this....

    August 14, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • a slozomby

      gotta love it when the subway cops have this kind of power.

      welcome to the police state.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Sharp

      What about the rights of the people murdered instead of being arrested? BART police are trigger happy & incompetent. A strong statement must be made.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. -Benjamin Franklin

      You cannot give up freedom for safety, not what the United States is about. We fight to preserve our freedom so no one can strip them away from us. The actions of a few cannot take away the rights of many. That leads down a dark path.

      This year the FCC has been particularly vocal in warning that cell phone jamming actions are not legal. Here's the words from an "enforcement note" put out by the FCC, and visible on this page at the FCC website:

      "We remind and warn consumers that it is a violation of federal law to use a cell jammer or similar devices that intentionally block, jam, or interfere with authorized radio communications such as cell phones, police radar, GPS, and Wi-Fi."

      BART's action of blocking cell phone use at San Francisco's Civic Center BART Station was illegal. According to a number of online sources, it's a violation of Federal law, specifically Section 333 of The Communications Act of 1934.

      So there you go what they did was wrong.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You may have missed the point entirely. The point is not whether the reason for their protest was trivial or meaningless to you, or that you thought they were going about it in a dangerous and stupid manner, but how they chose to stop the protest. To stop communications in order to prevent a protest sets a dangerous precedent. What's to stop the government from always bringing up 'safety' issues to justify stopping any protest using similar tactics? We have to be careful what we support. The government can only encroach on our freedoms as far as we let them.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Darryn Cooke

      San Francisco a police state? Clearly you must either be off your meds, or partaking in a bit too much hippie lettuce.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
    • dave

      @Sharp- spoken like a true gangster.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Just be thankful that there were police there to peacefully remove these protesters. Maybe vigilantes should organize a stop the protesters site. Maybe the guy that was shot should have used his cell phone to call a cab.

      August 14, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. Government Censors

    Shut down free speech-just like they are doing in syria, china and libya. Amerika!!! The new order!!!

    August 14, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. Duo

    So it's awful for Egypt's gov to shut down cell communications.. prevent protest. Oh wait.. now we're talking about US authorities.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kate

    Read San Francisco Assessor-Recorder (and mayoral candidate) Phil Ting's statement on the cell phone service shutdown: http://www.resetsanfrancisco.org/news/aug-13-11/sf-bart-cellphone-shutdown

    Says "The decision to cut off cell service in order to prevent the protests violates fundamental principles of our democracy." and "Censorship is not, and must not become, a public safety tool."

    August 14, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. Sharp

    Heads need to roll. BART is getting way into trigger happy policing & the people are angry. Now they pull tricks more worthy of Syria than the US & they think they will just get away with it. Protest & SHUT DOWN THE WHOLE SYSTEM. HEADS MUST ROLL.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • dave

      We are talking about one incident. Maybe you should be wondering why someone who is very angry and intoxicated is out in public. He was looking for a fight. Now you make rapid transit security guards out to be Gestapo. If that were the case then every one of those protesters would have been thrown on the 3rd rail.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  11. hilary

    Depriving people of cell service – essentially taking away their freedom of speech – is not the way to stop protesters and riots it will only make things worse.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  12. Alex

    I'm not surprised. The BART police is a bottom-of-the-barrel police department. First the Oscar Grant shooting, now this. It shows systemic disregard for citizens.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • dave

      I can see that the citizens have a disregard for public property. They shouldn't have blocked the calls but instead put a tap on them, traced back the calls, rounded them up one foggy night and have them conveniently disappear.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. ZweiStein

    My comment disappeared. Anyone know what happened to it? Don't tell me CNN is doing a BART thing.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • BART of CNN

      We deemed your comment to smart for the simpletons that usually post on these boards, please re-submitt your comment in hoodbilly so that they might understand.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Andrea M

    Well if that's not illegal as all hell, I dunno what is!

    August 14, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • ZweiStein

      Yeah...and it wasn't even offensive. My offensive comments they leave alone and posted.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      .This year the FCC has been particularly vocal in warning that cell phone jamming actions are not legal. Here's the words from an "enforcement note" put out by the FCC, and visible on this page at the FCC website:

      "We remind and warn consumers that it is a violation of federal law to use a cell jammer or similar devices that intentionally block, jam, or interfere with authorized radio communications such as cell phones, police radar, GPS, and Wi-Fi."

      BART's action of blocking cell phone use at San Francisco's Civic Center BART Station was illegal. According to a number of online sources, it's a violation of Federal law, specifically Section 333 of The Communications Act of 1934.

      So there you go what they did was wrong.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Get Real

    Cutting a provided service to disrupt communications in an effort to ensure the safety of the public is nowhere close to infringing on anyone rights. No signal in the tunnel? boo friggin hoo. No one was stopping these people from going on the street and calling each other. Get friggin real.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      I'll post again for you.

      This year the FCC has been particularly vocal in warning that cell phone jamming actions are not legal. Here's the words from an "enforcement note" put out by the FCC, and visible on this page at the FCC website:

      "We remind and warn consumers that it is a violation of federal law to use a cell jammer or similar devices that intentionally block, jam, or interfere with authorized radio communications such as cell phones, police radar, GPS, and Wi-Fi."

      BART's action of blocking cell phone use at San Francisco's Civic Center BART Station was illegal. According to a number of online sources, it's a violation of Federal law, specifically Section 333 of The Communications Act of 1934.

      So there you go what they did was wrong.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
    • a slozomby

      "Cutting a provided service to disrupt communications in an effort to ensure the safety of the public is nowhere close to infringing on anyone rights." syria and iran used the same excuse.

      August 14, 2011 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
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