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.

Post by:
Filed under: Crime • Justice • San Francisco • U.S.
soundoff (486 Responses)
  1. Bart Simpson

    "She said that she wuz gunna keep calling me so I stomped on her phone"

    August 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm | 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 1:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny Rocket

      You sir, are a horses ass. Your own regurgitation of FCC regulations is your undoing. BART powered off their subterranean cell phone repeaters. They did not employ any kind of cell signal jamming device. There's a reason the FCC isn't returning calls or emails for comments: Their own lawyers know shutting off cell service equipment is not the same as jamming cell service with a device devised to do so. THERE IS NO FCC VIOLATION HERE.

      August 14, 2011 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
    • scott

      You can't reason with unreasonable people. Of course no law was broken, but even with all the evidence in the world they will cling to their need to believe that they have a 'right' to 'protest' by climbing on top of commuter trains and obstructing safety of others.

      They'll talk about revolution, but never the aftermath once all the blood is shed. Once their rage is spent. Then what?

      It's 'for the moment' and an ego driven hope to be special in some way that they curretly do not feel.

      "When something aileth a man, even unto his bowels, he goes about setting the World right."

      Every movement needs its true beleivers. In bleak economic times, people wiling to ignore the rights of others are perfect recruits for 'movements' to use them in all sorts of ways. Of course, they will see themsleves as freedom fighters. They must, else they couldn't bring themselves to act. But then they find, at some point, there's no more use for them and the real power manipulators will have long since compromised their cause in order to grab power for themselves.

      But yeah, keep throwing yourselves on trains. Maybe next time you could just lay down on runways or, hey, hijack planes.

      Oh darn. That's ALREADY BEEN DONE.

      You could hire a skywriter. Have it say,"We are the walking wounded, we're so abused ( not spoiled ), and we're so bored and so jobless. Any dictators need an army?"

      Get it...

      August 14, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lisa Simpson

    "Mommmmm ! "

    August 13, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Silver Wraith

    This action was taken in the context of riots in England and whatever Philadelphia's young people call their night adventures.
    Such activities don't come under the heading, "Free Speech," in my book.

    August 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Fortunately YOUR book isn't the law.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • RickInVA

      Indeed the Supreme Court has ruled many times that the 1st Amendment does not protect fighting words or incitement to lawlessness. I am as strong a free speech person as anyone, but freedom is not anarchy. BART provides a relay so that people can get cell service while underground. They are not required to provide that by any law, and can provide it or not provide it as they wish. There are also cell signal suppressors that can block out cell reception in a radius around them. It is a violation of federal law to interupt a cell signal with a supressor, and if that is what BART did then it needs to be investigated and the guilty punished.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Communications law DOES however have laws against interference with cell phone communications. What was done here directly violates that law. It also is in henious violation with several civil rights laws for acting before anything has happened.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Stan Stansbury

    Where do you even start with people like this, including Ms. Sweet and the ACLU? Shutting down a transit station and preventing thousands of innocent people from going home is not a protest against urban violence, it IS urban violence. Yes, 20-somethings need a way to blow off steam and an avenue to feel righteous. This ain't it. And then we have adults who should know better like Ms Sweet and ACLU encouraging additional chaos! Get a grip people, this isn't anything like Egypt.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      This was a preemptive strike. Next time it will be with guns to avert a POSSIBLE protest taking the lives of innocents. We are rapidly becoming the Communist State of Obama.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      If the shoe fits...

      August 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • gsy

      Totally agree. This also may have averted injuries and death w those riots! Enough is enough. Good tactics.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • cdbeee


      August 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Name*Shalon

    Why would someone want to be so ignorant to play with all these phones. What happens when you hack into a phone system that pin point your local even if you try to bounce signals. Sometimes I believe that the ignorance of people comes from nothing to do except cause problems use words you probably cannot pronounce correctly or spell. Save us all the grief and just find something else to do

    August 13, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    You mean that interfering with thousands of people's cell phone service is legal? Even in this day and age, I wouldn't have thought that. And people go to prison for waging Internet denial-of-service attacks? Go figure.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bertie


      August 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. The Måd Råp3r

    ITB: Drones bending over and taking The Mans disco stick, or trolls, not sure yet

    August 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Poop Flinger

    If this was done in China, the US would be filing protest with the United Nations.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Måd Råp3r

      Of course, only Uncle knows that our freedom needs to be protected from us, its wrong when the dirty commies do it.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Charles Queen

    I can see it being used so long as it does not interfere or causes any problems whatsoever to the other people who are using this transpot system

    August 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. brad

    Boy, when SF turns into a police state you know you have problems!

    August 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. edvhou812

    There is a big difference between protestors and those that are trying to be disruptive. I pray for the day that others know the difference. BART did the right thing.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Anonymous

    A country that gives up a little bit of liberty for a little bit of freedom deserves neither, and will lose both.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      Whoops! Got that one wrong. Let me try one more time:

      A country that gives up a little bit of liberty, for a little bit of SECURITY deserves neither, and will lose both.

      Apologies... it's been a long day.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • t

      both attempted quotes are wrong. "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" dont mix Franklins words

      August 13, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joshua Ludd

    Not to stop specific crimes... but to stop a protest... at the murder of a man at the hands of a BART cop... and it was murder.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • scott

      Uh, you do realize OTHER people besides this group wanted to actually go home, or just..somewhere they paid to go?

      You're so misguided it's not even funny. Your holy little agendas and capturing tiny flags on even smaller hills. All to supposedly 'protest' a misjustice.

      The real misjustice here is that anyone would justify the actions of this group. I'm glad BART shut them down and in any way disrupted their attempts.

      You want to protest and be taken seriously?

      Get your butts into the public square and out of the way of people who don't give rats backside about YOUR causes. If they do, they can always stop and listen to what you have to say.

      But see, that would take mature decision making, versus emotional, in the moment decision making. You would be required to – gasp! – think of someone besides yourself.

      What a horrible thought! lol

      August 14, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. oldguy40

    Get a life. Do something positive. Protesting is nothing more than showing your ignorance and your own failure in life. We're not interested in your particular whining about your pathetic position in life: get a job. make something useful, invent the next fusion reactor, just do something positive. Your parents, grandparents, society, don't owe you squat. Make your own success. If you're a failure, don't ask me to support your "cause".

    August 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • world press

      I think its time you got your head out of your ass and admitted a murder took place and laws were broken by BART, the whole of the united states is so full of losers im suprised you havnt all shot yourselves by mistake,, grow up and respond in a mature manner, cutting cell service is against the law, shooting an unarmed person is also, get a grip with reality!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. atlantian

    uh, hello? didnt people use to function 1/2 hour or more without cellphones? waaahhh your mascaras running

    August 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18