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. Jim

    Ah, yes, BART: Massively expensive to build; chronically in need of more funds; rude, incompetent, over-paid employees; stations smelling of urine; gang members' favorite mode of transportaion.

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

    Freedom of speech is important....

    Yelling 'Fire' when there is no fire, is a crime...

    Shouldn't yelling 'Attack innocent civilians' via a cell phone also be a crime?? –

    With freedoms come responsibilities – I agree with protest – I even agree with revolt in extreme situations (eg. the repression in Syria) – but revolt, if needed, needs to be soley directed at those who are significanlty repressing us and NOT the general public... and repression is something constant and widespread – ie the daily beating and assults of random people approved by the autorities – not just a couple of idiots who overestimate their powers...

    August 14, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. jeff

    What if the people cut off all police communications.
    What if we broke every camera off every traffic light, and broke all the big brother cameras everywhere. that would be a start.
    What if we disrupted all the police frequency, how would they like that.
    Maybe the unemployed young people need to use there brains instead of their brawn, and systematically disrupt every electronic device authorizes use,
    That includes their drown airplanes the fly over are heads spying on us.
    Now that sounds like freedom to me, exactly what our forefathers would want us to do, with a government which has forgot it place. It's we the people, not you the government that rule the country.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Gracko

      You're an idiot – You have absolutely no understanding of what our forefathers would do.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      I don't see any problem with your freedom of speech. You are allowed to post your opinion no matter how ridiculous it may seem to others. Also I don't see or hear any "drown" aircraft hovering around CNN trying to get a line on you. You sense of self importance is greatly exaggerated.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Olaf Big

      Man, don't forget to take your meds and see a psychiatrist first thing on Monday. You have a bad case of paranoia. You want to protest, go outside and protest in a city square. Jamming the subway is unsafe and annoying.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • jeff

      None of the comments will make me feel bad. The truth is the truth. It has nothing to do about paranoia. If you had any money I would not bet against my facts, because you would lose it all.

      Your type will always be a follower and a mindless drone, just what the government wants. You probable work for them leaching off my tax dollars. I could give a rats ass about my free speech. Just as long as in annoys you.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom S

      Someone needs to put you on a list. lol

      August 14, 2011 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Your ideas were lost in the bad grammar and spelin.

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

      Little bit to far Jeff. For one traffic lights are put in public places they cannot spy on you in your private property. If you jammed police communications you would have the blood of many innocent people on your hands. You are right to always question the government of course, and in many ways the people have been losing their power over the government for awhile. Shutting off communications is wrong in my opinion. Since they could shut it off instead of jam it that's why it was legal. Hopefully they fix that, because soon enough they will start taking away freedoms for our saftey. It's already happened look at the Patriot Act.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. John R

    All the angry comments aside (what else is new), the article brings up an interesting point. Cell phones aren't a public domain. You and your wireless provider have a contract. Obviously, with something as ubiquitous as cell phones, there are some genuine reasons for a government body (at any level) to co-ordinate logistics. But what takes precedence...you're absolute right to converse in any way you want, via a service provided by a private company, or the potential for some illegal activity to be monitored or the service cut-off?

    I have quite a bit of background on this...amateur radio operator, volunteer with the police and a previous telephone company employee (worked on E911 amongst other technical projects). I hardly blame anyone for taking a side, but I wonder how many of us have really, carefully, looked at the impact to both sides?

    PS If anyone wants to 'graduate' away from cynicism on the internet, why not pretend to take both sides in your mind. Since starting a consulting firm, I've become a better person and better helper by being able to see both (or all) sides of an issue. This is a great issue for teachers, toastmasters, and debaters...and people who like to reason!

    August 14, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      As far as I know, cell usage is not covered under the first amendment, Cell usage is at the Sole discretion of the service providers... Who of course also want to protect their FCC licenses. Neat, huh? They don't have a choice either...

      August 14, 2011 at 12:47 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 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jon

    BART should be wearing SS uniforms or wearing gestapo insignia, because that is what they amount to.

    This country is reminding me more of Nazi Germany, Syria and Iran every day–because all three are evil, and corrupt to the core, and all suppress free speech and the rights of their citizens....And the US is now becoming just like them. I almost expect to see old Soviet "reeducation camps" constructed shortly for those who dissent in order to further stifle free speech....

    August 14, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Britt

      Really? Nazi Germany? Just a wee bit overdramatic, aren't you?

      August 14, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sagebrush Shorty

    Let them ride on top of the BART cars. Run the train anyway and see how strong their convictions really are. Do the dance, pay the piper.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. bigwilliestyles

    Here's a thought: why not ask the "American security forces" to stop beating, tazing and killing American citizens. Then there would be no need to protest.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      That works both ways. If the citizens never commited crimes than the police force wouldn't be beating and tasering people. Sometimes the police go to far, but most of the time the police are in the right. That and generally people have a hard time living with themselves for taking someones life. Even if it had to happen. Not to many people want to kill someone.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. Robert

    I don't care one whit about the ACLU, but this was the wrong action for the transit system to take. If they believed there would be danger to the public, they should have gotten the (real) police involved.

    And I loudly denounce ANYTHING that Anonymous does, to me they're as much terrorists as al Qaeda. It is not their responsibility to "retaliate" on anyone's behalf. Bunch of punks that are going to get people killed.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • ZweiStein

      You say: "they're as much a terrorist organization as Al Qaeda." You are phuking crazy if that's what you believe.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      I'm sure he doesn't. What they did was borderline breaking the law. If it was jamming it would be in violation, but turning off the signal isn't illegal. But this is the first time this has ever happened in our history I believe, so I am sure the FFC will decide soon if shutting off towers should be illegal.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  9. bob

    wait a minute! an actually intelligent action took place in San Fransisco! good god what is this world coming too!

    August 14, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Kat

      What is this world coming too???

      August 14, 2011 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. ZweiStein

    Of course the "higher-ups" didn't know service would be disrupted. (roll eyes please.)

    August 14, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rob in FL

    Welcome to The Peoples Republic of USA/China

    August 14, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. jeff

    Gestapo – tactics is what happens when you militarize a police force. The police are not the military but they are fast becoming a military police force like the Gestapo.

    Soon all the soldiers coming back from war, who shoot first and ask questions later because they are in the military and also a dangerous environment will be on our streets as police officers. I hope they remember this is not Afghanistan.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. PGelsman

    They can cut cell service in a specific subway station but they can't cut it in prisons? What is wrong with this picture?

    August 14, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Because BART own the underground coverage, It's illegal to jam a communication, but not illegal to turn it off. You would have to jam the jail to prevent coverage as it's private corperations who own that coverage. Underground ATT, Verizon, etc doesn't get service so BART made the coverage thus it is theirs and they can turn it off. However this is the first time in history it's been done by a government agency, so the FCC may look into it more...hopefully.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. Annoyed

    They only did this so that when they committed another murder as they have done at least twice now, that they would have time to get a cover story together before the videos hit YouTube.

    August 14, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. Tom S

    "SAVE the GERBIL"

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