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. gedwards

    Good thing no one was having a heart attack or being mugged, or some other emergency where a 911 call would be necessary.

    Just a low-level government employee who somehow believes he or she has supreme authority to curtail guaranteed rights of citizens.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    Pretty sure our founding fathers only intended for the state militia to have cellphones.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. macthek9

    I'm a liberal. And I say, go to hell with your e'fing protests. If anything like what happened in London happened here in the states, forget the rubber bullets, go with the real thing. Because, that kind of protest endangers lives and our way of life. It's simply is not exercising your freedom of speech when you take our freedom away, because you want to gripe and stomp around like a bunch 2 year olds.... WA WA WA!!! Get a life!

    August 14, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Red Blooded Democrat

      Yeah macthek9, take away all civil liberties, shoot all those who object to our dictatorial leaders. No opposition to the word of our Messiah. No First Ammendment rights, no second ammendment, No Bil of rights, and replace those stars and bars with hammer and cicle.

      August 14, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  4. Eywa Has Heard You. The Sky People Are Coming..

    @Rockwood: You can still get emergency help on those trains. They have emergency buttons or handles located all throughout those things, even busses have them.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      "IF" someone see you.

      August 14, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Eywa Has Heard You. The Sky People Are Coming..

    Why don't the protesters protest all the criminal elements that terrorize all the other people riding those trains? Oh yeah that's right.. Gangs are scary and don't play by the same rules that cops have to. Why not organize into vigilante groups to protect the rest of the good people, so there aren't as many trigger happy police running around? Nevermind I already know the answer to that.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Random

      How do you think the world would react to vigilantes on BART?

      August 14, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Random 2

      Shouldn't BART have a security on the transportation system if crime is a problem?

      August 14, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. Riggan

    The focus of the article is interesting. I see the outrage at the cell phone service being cut, but where is the outrage at the people who are planning the protests, thus jeopardizing the lives and livelihood of so many? Maybe that should be what the newspapers talk about!

    August 14, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      BART was representing only themselves.

      The protesters were representing millions.

      August 14, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. razedeyebrow

    If even prisons and jails can't block cell phone service in their facilities, wasn't this very illegal for BART to do?

    August 14, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sam

    I thought it was against Federal law to shut down cell phones. But then again people with power in the right place can do what they want. And only get a slap on the hand for doing it. They know this as well. Cell service probaly wouldnt work at all anyway during this protest in the tunnel with everyone overloading the system.

    August 14, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Eywa Has Heard You. The Sky People Are Coming..

    @Sam: If my work shuts down it's complimentary wifi service because workers/customers are doing illegal things online then it's illegal and they should be sued or imprisoned?

    August 14, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • The Måd Råp3r

      Protests aren't illegal.

      August 14, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Random 2

      Bart is assuming this things were going to happen, you cannot assume something will happen and turn off the cellphones. Now BART has pychic powers and thats how they knew? How many protesters?

      August 14, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Eywa Has Heard You. The Sky People Are Coming..

      @Mad Ra per: Peaceful assembly is allowed, not shutting down the transit system. I don't know why I even humor you with that name. Your mom must be proud. They are supposed to protest without disrupting service. Derp.
      @Random : It wasn't assuming anything these were planned protests idiot. Please don't breed.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Random 2

      @Ewya- Now read my post again. Do you see you misread my post. Who is the idiot? I said Bart was assuming some type of violence or something untoward was going to happen. Maybe someone else should think birth control? Little testy you are.

      August 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rick

    If this kind of protest is a build up for an excuse to anything like was done in London.The hell with them we dont need that kind of crap in the US. Dangering lifes and costing billions in damage to their own country gets you no where. I hope they shoot to kill if thats their plan. But it wont surprise that they dont turn this into a gay grip.

    August 14, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Random 2

      Wrong, the police have been shooting people unlawfully. Bringing attention to it is not the problem. This group that were to protest should bring a suit against BART. Protesting is a right. Bart saying that the protesters were going to do this and that means nothing. There was nothing done just an illegal use of cutting off cell use.

      August 14, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  11. michaelfury

    http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/memory-holes-in-the-floor/

    August 14, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    Hi, Silver Wraith.
    How was Italy?
    Hi, Phil.
    Give it a rest.
    This is not the thread.

    August 14, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. ACamelSpider

    While I understand BART's mandate to protect we the people, while we are on its platforms, concourses, trains, etc., I do believe that Manager-On-Duty overstepped their authority by disconnecting BARTs underground cellphone network technology to thwart a protest, and will be terminated by week's end. Did the Governor of CA order it, did the police department order it, did the White House order it? Surely none of them did, because it would be ILLEGAL under the protection of the first amendment. Sorry, heads will roll come Monday!.

    August 14, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • bud

      The governor has to authorize it? Bull cookies. That's why there is a M-A-N-A-G-E-R on duty. Bravo.

      August 14, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. Zadoc Paet

    I am wondering if I can find a single person who thinks is was ethical.

    POLL: Was the BART cell phone shut down ethical?
    http://www.wepolls.com/p/1894315

    August 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Silver Wraith

    Hi, banasy.
    Good.
    That car is old, and it may not ever run again.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
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