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. sameeker

    ATTENTION: All freedoms are being suspended in the name of "safety". Never mind that it is very unsafe to even look at a cop wrong on the transit system.

    August 14, 2011 at 4:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. King of the Sodomites

    Well the rest of us do, and we like to get drunk and scaroo. Just know the we have our eyes on your boys the same way that the straights have their eyes on your girls. God made us want male companionship. So if you catch me in bed with one of your sons, don't get mad at me. Get mad at Jesus. Good night.

    August 14, 2011 at 4:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. mark

    "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."

    Um then who authorized the installation of devices that can cut off cell phone service in the subway in the first place?

    August 14, 2011 at 4:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      They are desperately looking for a scapegoat now that they realize that their actions violated Federal law.
      Somebody's head is going to end up of the proverbial chopping block for this.

      August 14, 2011 at 5:19 am | Report abuse |
    • J E

      The bart system, due to its underground layout, has zero reception for most users. To help this out, they have installed underground repeaters that re-broadcast signals throughout the line and stations, providing service 5 stories under ground. Systems were not installed that block signals, but instead these courtesy systems that enhance it was shut off.

      August 14, 2011 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
    • pray

      I lived in the peoples republic of rich in sf during the loma preita earth quake and the police rushed to close all the liqour stores immediately and their response was "to keep people from getting stupid". See leftists are like despots. Why are you surprised?

      August 14, 2011 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
    • pray

      Jamming is seen as property theft, because a private company has purchased the rights to the radio spectrum, and jamming the spectrum is akin to stealing the property the company has purchased. It also represents a safety hazard because jamming blocks all calls in the area, not just the annoying ones. Jamming a signal could block the call of a babysitter frantically trying to contact a parent or a someone trying to call for an ambulance. So with that said, service is non existence under ground and the pipe it in for free, that is not actually interupting the flow of radio signals from a legal point of view.

      August 14, 2011 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      So if your phone carrier cuts off your service for non-payment they are inhibiting your 1st amendment rights? Hardly. BART has cell phone boosters/repeaters in the tunnels as a courtesy to riders, not because of a mandate. Probably a stupid idea to turn them off but the way of social media as a tool for people to gather to commit crimes/disrupt businesses is on the line of yelling fire in a crowded theater.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • macthek9

      Good. Stop the whiney protesters from disrupting the rest of us. There grip is unimportant and simply satisfies a selfish need to distroy what was given to them by their predecessors... Grippy babies!! Get over your wannabe hippie BS!

      August 14, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick1948

      BARTs actions did not violate federal law since they did not block any cell phone service; they simply turned off the repeaters that they own and operate. They did the right thing.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • vic Francis

      Government big brother tactics again.
      Nothing much changes.....your police in the USA are the biggest bullies in history.
      I been there and wont go back they are terrible...I went 5 times as a tourist.....never again. my family liked the place but not all the authoritative uniforms.....ranging from the unhappy bullish immigration to the customs to the car park pistol packing attendant.......the general police are arrogant and go nuts if you dont agree with everything they say.

      You society is crazy.

      UK resident......ex USA tourist and fan.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Random

      It is a felony in California to prevent someone from using a phone. This is in the California Police Officers standers and training modules, but I do not remember the section number. Does anyone remember the number? Also, does anyone know why this does not apply to the person responsible for this?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. callmesir

    How is it a violation of free speech. You can still speak, but you aren't going to use their signal to do it. Movie theaters are considering putting in blocker so idiots will stop interrupting service, are they blocking free speech too?

    August 14, 2011 at 5:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Actually, it's against Federal Law to block or jam Cellphones. (which is why they *don't* do it at movie theaters!)
      ...and Frderal Law trumps state or local laws.
      The long and short of it is: BART screwed up big time.

      August 14, 2011 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
    • AVGJOE

      It is a violation to willfully disrupt communications and any type of communications. It's illegal, FCC regs state that no one can willfully disrupt one-way and two-way communications. Communications is way to receive and transmit emergency information in such an event. So therefore BART illegal shut down a means to provide a way for people to call 911, etc in the event of an emergency. BART doesn't seem to have their crap together. Wasn't it a BART officer who got charged for killing a man?

      August 14, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Frustrated

      buildings install dampeners all the time. now what I want to know is....how do you protest something that can't be undone? what was the endgame?

      August 14, 2011 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      They did not jam the service. They turned off signal boosters. Big difference and not a violation of law.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • AVGJOE

      @Bill, are you really that ignorant? Do you think you could still make a phone call with a jammed signal? I think not. It is essentially the same thing. Either way, a means to communicate was disrupted. Maybe aliens have jammed your head and your dumb signals are not going anywhere.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Juli

    Shut the cell phone service down; it's annoying anyway.

    August 14, 2011 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. Silver Wraith

    @ King of the Sodomites:
    Here's where you are 100% correct:
    I am grateful for that.
    Neither my wife nor I would claim to speak for the rest of America, and I hope that my two sons and one daughter would not. We did not raise them to be common, and they are not in their achievements.
    My impression is that you have an own goal or expectation of infidelity in marriage. I do not.
    I sincerely hope that these new gay marriages will be based on a knowledge that fidelity is one of the most important components of a marriage as beautiful and enduring as mine has been for decades.

    August 14, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. reginald

    There re a lot of parents that need to correspond with daycare, jobs, and loved ones- why would the police be that selfish to punish americans for their right to freedom of speech and to protest?All this does is help us to identify that cell phone carriers need to do more to create reception sgnals that the police cant interfere with just for a small group of people who protest against their brutality

    August 14, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |

    Underground cell signal is a free service provided by the BART, which is a private company, as a courtesy service to its patrons. If they want to shut that private system of repeaters and antennae down, for any reason, they have the right to do so, without question.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Random

      Thank you for explaining. This is much clearer now. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |

    Um....what about citizens who would of called the police to TELL them where the problems were happening? Many citizens are the 'eye's' of law enforcement. I'm not thinking this was a smart move.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  10. NKM

    In other words, the protesters were watching what was going on in England and thought it looked fun. Not sure cutting off cell phone service is ever a good idea, but I don't believe for a moment the protesters wanted to "call attention to police violence". They wanted to call attention to themselves. Periiod.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. I can read

    A cowardly move by BART that could have proved to be deadly if someone needed cell phone access to report an emergency but were unable to.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Barry from Wisconsin

      That is silly. There are many ways to contact authorities – both on a BART platform and in a train.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. WR Greensboro

    As many folks already noted, BART did not cut off cell service but simply did not provide the extra service that they normally provided through repeaters. To just listen to the people who did the whining one can understand why. Why facilitate communications among a herd of morons who want to demonstrate against people they do not know in support of people they would never socialize with and a far left cause.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rick1948

    BART does not "owe" cell phone service to the subway riders; it provides that by operating a series of repeaters in the tunnels. For them to turn those repeaters off does not violate federal law regarding blocking of cell phone service since, without the repeaters, the concrete does that. The company showed great courage in doing something to curtail the potential for violence by controlling their own system.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Random

      .)This situation it similar the Batman film where he simply chose not to save the villain. This is well done. Why would a group want to facilitate its own down fall? Thank you all for the great debate. (Sorry for poor spelling/grammar.)

      August 14, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. Barry from Wisconsin

    Free speech and the right to assemble are wonderful things – and I would defend them anywhere. However, using so-called "social media" to coordinate other than peaceful demonstrations is an assault on all of us…..

    I have ridden BART many times – it is safe and clean. Organizing a protest that endangers riders is out of bounds.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. macthek9

    Good. Stop the whiney protesters from disrupting the rest of us. There grip is unimportant and simply satisfies a selfish need to distroy what was given to them by their predecessors... Grippy babies!! Get over your wannabe hippie BS!

    August 14, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
    • The Måd Råp3r

      Please learn how to spell gripe for the love of god

      August 14, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
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