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. Appalled - 1st Amendment Rights Please

    Appalling – we have a 1st amendment – freedom of speech. Dictatorships cut off free speech when they are threatened by protests, free speech, and the freedom of the people. When did SF become a dictatorship, like Egypt was?

    August 13, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lee

    BART is just asking for a law suit as well, if there was an emergence, and a person died it would be considered disruption of an emergence number. I hope they get hacked , ad I hope they get fined as well.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chuckmartel

    Blame the stinking masses and their mob rule preversion of deocracy. Mobs rioting, blocking services, attacking people, etc, all with no regard for anyone. The uncontrolled masses are the ultimate in pure tyranny. .

    August 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • terry

      can you spell class action

      August 14, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Halcium

    BART Police at their finest hour:


    August 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lee

    Oh and they just made a bad situation even Worse.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hilo, HI

      The 'protesters'? I'd have to agree.

      Most of those 'out-raged' citizens wouldn't even have pis sed on that dead guy if he was on fire.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hilo, HI

    Isn't 'NO Cellphones' (radios, food, etc) already the policy for mass transit?

    I want to get a blocking device. So sick of losers imposing their loud, boring, stupid lives on anyone in earshot.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Just a guy

    I'm betting that since the SF BART stations, like most subway stations, are underground, BART put in cell service down there as a courtesy, and if it is being abused why should they keep it up? It's basically someone in Starbucks using their wifi to plan a protest there, so it's illogical for starbucks to keep up their wifi.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Szb

      You are right – just like always a few bad apples mess things up for everyone – the logical step is to simply remove the cell service totally- BART is providing repeaters as a sevice, they own them, they have a right to turn them off – they are not blocking cell sevice the earth is.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barfy Spewsalot

      They could shut down service for a month! That will show ya!

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

    @ John i have no idea what the Boston Massacre has to do with this, i live in Boston.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      It has to do with everything. You are saying protest shouldn't be allowed. With that train of thought we would still be under Englands rule. So long as it isn't threating anyone you should always have the right to do so peacefully.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ariesrising

    The BART officials responsible for this attack on the 1st amendment need to be fired and prosecuted. Our society can't let minor government agencies decide when we have the right to exercise free speech. If this stands it will only get worse. Please write your state representatives and express your displeasure and shock at this action. The protesters should be handled in the usual way with the police. No one ever said democracy was easy. Wake up it is later than you think.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Appalled - 1st Amendment Rights Please

      AMEN! Exactly! Finally, some rational thought!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Neal

    @John my case in point as you said" if my child was attacked". The fact being that these morons on their phones calling in for protests create a harmful and violent atmosphere. Do you have a child? nephew/niece? Why not bring them down to one of these mob scenes with you and tell me how it all works out for you. screwball.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      You understand in this report it says they knew EXACTLY were they where going to protest?

      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.

      They did select stations, meaning instead they should have sent down police to intercept. I can use the same logic on you. What if your child was having an asthma attack and you didn't have your inhaler? What about if your mom was having a heart attack and you couldn't even call 911? What about if someone took your child and you could do nothing as they esacped with your child... What about if your nephew was going into a diabetic shock and you didn't have any insulin and no way to call 911? What about if someone attacked you anyway and you can do nothing about it as you cant call for help.

      Second, why would I ever bring my child to a mob scene...That would be stupid.

      Third, screwball? Really? lol

      August 14, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      To further prove my point:
      "I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this. We really don't have the right to be this type of censor," said Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors. "In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair."

      August 14, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. Zero1020

    This is the first step to a police state. Shut down communication and the people will revolt. The government should be afraid of the people not the other way around.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZweiStein

      Absolutely correct!

      August 14, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. Right Wing Thugsta Killa

    The proper use of free speech in this instance would be to assemble in front of the BART headquarters, or SF City hall. Lol free speech doesn't include going around making innocent people get caught in the middle of your little cause. None of you even know what the 1st amendment is even about. We all have a right to protest, but within limits. Personally if I had to ride the subway I wouldn't want to deal with this stuff either. The cell repeater service was done as a courtesy and is not really protected under anything. Where were the protests before the service was provided? Why not protest outsourcing or unlimited welfare benefits for anchor babies? Do something that will effect real change.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      The reason they were protesting was absurd in the first place. I don't understand people saying people shouldn't be allowed to protest because it can become violent. Cell phone service needs to be kept up however. If people need help 911 is the fastest way to get it. They are lucky no one needed medical attention.

      Hell would freeze over before you saw a protest in San Fran about illegals hahaha.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • ZweiStein

      So as long as they protest something you think worthy, it's OK. Otherwise, shut-up...is that it?

      August 14, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith123

      Right Wing Thugsta Killa: Well said.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Right Wing Thugsta Killa

      @ZweiStein: Yeah that's exactly what I said. I pointed out the correct way they could protest without disrupting a public service. Oh I have to live my life according to what YOU want eh? A little hypocritical aren't we? I don't care if people protest anything, but it's called peaceful assembly, not shut down the public transit system. I would like to see more Americans involved to boot out any corrupt government officials, but there are plenty of corrupt citizens as well that think they can be corrupt, but not any elected official.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. Lee

    and now so begins the seeds of what will come..Oh this is going to be interesting...The seeds have been sown and they will grow..it may not be right away, but be rest assured, because of this there will be Riots even worse.

    Oh BART what you have unleashed will be you own undoing. You Have Violated the 1rst amendment. and to those that were higher ups..you have created a bad situation . You want power, you want control, but what you have unleashed is the miss trust of people. Some will blindly accept others will not.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      you clearly don't have any understanding of how the 1st amendment works, please stop commenting

      idiocy is contagious

      August 14, 2011 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bob

    San Francisco


    Typical liberal trash making a fuss over nothing to see here

    and yet they wonder why San Fran is a bigger laughingstock than the entire state of Texas is to the rest of the country.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jon

    So this is how democracy works??? They cut cell service to make sure they disrupt a protest against indignity and state sponsored evil?

    This country reminds me more of Syria or Iran every day.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
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