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. zachary

    Bay Area Racist Thugs

    August 14, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. ally

    Hey guys
    whatever they did there, I don't care, as long as I can get home safely and on time. That's what Bart police/security is there for.
    Take your political/ other actions to the senators/local electives if you are serious. That does work actually – you write a letter -they answer (fast!) and try to fix your problem (my experience).
    Please consider other people's lives.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • a slozomby

      a letter? bart cops keep shooting people. and you want to write a letter to the complaint department?

      August 14, 2011 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Brett

    Looks like the press outnumbers the protesters by about 4 to one.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Shawn

    So what if someone were in need of emergency medical while in the subway. I suppose SF would rather people die from medical emergencies then be able to protest

    August 14, 2011 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
    • BillInLA

      If someone needed emergency medical service, the disruption in subway service would have clogged the streets and made it impossible for emergency crews to get there, dummy.

      In addition, the technology exists to block all but emergency calls. In France, movie theaters can block all but emergency cell phone calls. Hurray for France! I'm off to a late movie now, where undoubtedly some nitwit will think that it"s so important to shine a light in others' faces that he'll have his f****** cell phone out during the movie

      August 14, 2011 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. jesse

    Bravo.... way for BART to act hipicritical and risk lives.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Back to 3rd grade you go

      Learn to spell you idiot.

      August 14, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Peikovian

    They should set themselves on fire. That's what Buddhist monks would do.

    August 14, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. Guernica

    I always thought people had the right to protest peacefully? How do they know it will be riots if it hasn't even occurred yet?

    August 14, 2011 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Put on your thinking cap

      They know from past history. Look at the picture (I'm sure you're used to doing that). Does it look peaceful?

      August 14, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
  8. Guernica

    How did they know it wouldn't be a peaceful protest? We have a right to protest peacefully.

    August 14, 2011 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • To the knee-jerk reactionist

      Because these protesters' track record has not shown them to be prone to peaceful protests. Read and comprehend.

      August 14, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mick

    The Nazi b@$t@Rd that made that decision should be shot! (I'm not kidding – his action was an act of treason against the United States and everything that it stands for! In wartime, traitors are shot.
    'Nuff Said!

    August 14, 2011 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
    • MORE than 'nuff said

      Thank you so much. Let "'Nuff said" be your first and last comment the next time you post.

      August 14, 2011 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
  10. Adam Diran

    Disrupting public transit isn't just a free speech issue, what they were planning to do was also a criminal. Shutting down trains by climbing on them?

    August 14, 2011 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rabbi Green

    cutting contact in the US, a off switch for free speech.... Its playing with fire in this country.... fire...

    August 14, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Back to your sermon

      Free speech is not an issue here. They can say whatever they want but to do so via mass communication is not a "right", nor should it be.

      August 14, 2011 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |


    August 14, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. Cat MacLeod

    I'm a local and BART Police are dangerous armed men you can't trust. but the protesters are not getting public support because they are seriously screwing up peoples commute. This action by BART Police does more to rally people against them than anything these annoying protestors have done.

    August 14, 2011 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. Silver Wraith

    @ Guernica:
    At least you can choose a nom de plume well. Many readers won't notice yours, and that is indicative of the lack of awareness and education that leads to the kind of violence we are seeing.
    Citizens (and others) have to plan a protest and arrange it lawfully.
    It was CELLPHONE SERVICE that was interrupted, NOT TRANSIT SERVICE.
    There are schools in this country, but they usually don't teach THINKING now, only computer operation.
    @ Mick:
    If you think that you are in a war with Nazis, I'll take you at your work. You are experiencing a delusion, but it is helpful to know that the presence of "war" is perceived by some citizens so that precautions can be taken, such as the appropriate precautions just taken in San Francisco.

    August 14, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Silver Wraith

    "Take you at your WORD," not "work."

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