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. Name

    Shalon, how can you tell how someone pronounces something from a block of text? You must have VERY sensitive ears! Ad hominem attacks don't win arguments, they just convince everyone that you have nothing to say. (Also, what are you talking about? TFA read that BART wasn't playing with phones, they stopped cell service THEY provide where signals from outdoor antennae don't reach. If you meant the protestors, they weren't planning to "play" with them either, they were going to use them to coordinate their activities. Here's a dollar, buy a clue.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. fish79

    Temporarily suspending cell phone service on an underground platform, which is provided as a courtesy-not a right, has nothing to do with free speech.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Sorry but Federal Communications law says it is illegal to interfere with cell phone communications.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • world press

      It dont matter its not their property to shut down any cell service,, they dont have the right!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. its me

    Don't you people have anything better to do then protest? Like how about get a job. I can gauruntee if you had a job you would be to tired and busy to protest. Get a job, pay taxes, and leave the rest of the world alone.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • tillzen

      For 50 years "stop protesting" and "get a job" has the mantra of comfy old white men. I'm sure America and the World situation seem not that big a deal to you as you have food, shelter and a warm toilet seat. Imagine there's no heaven. Suddenly a life spent being comfy seems pathetic.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Spartan13654

    SF did turned off the phones to protect the public from people that were forming an illegal protest. If they want to protest they should file a planned rally to protest in an approved area. Protest in a subway endangers the public. What if someones child was pushed on to the tracks.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Yeah? Like a vacant lot outside of town?

      August 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • world press

      the police have the power to arrest , not murder, and not remove or interfere with essential services, in their tunnel or not its against the law!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jason Glugla

    Now let me see, we live in what we believe is a Democracy in which a President was appointed by a group of individuals who are not elected and in which protests are stifled.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. svann

    Who gave authorization to interfere with cell phone service? Get the name. Without legal authority that is obviously a crime.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      Who gave the authorization for people to protest violently and put others in danger, i want names.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Big Paulie

    Shoot BART on site IMO.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jimh77

    If these people want to protest and shut something down, Go to Washington and shut them down. Do something good for people. Shutting down a busy transit system for what reason? Something to do. Get a freakin life.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bennett

    Gradually, we will come to understand that [they] are always looking out for us benevolently. Therefore, the various [pre-crime] units willuse technology and other means to control humans. Are you really surprised this is happening?

    August 13, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LADONT

    Wow, San Francisco is turning into the next Syria.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bart Simpson

    @812...If it's ok to stomp-on Lisa's phone because she said she was gunna keep calling, then it's alright to stomp on Onama's head for not doing what he said he was gunna do? If every time I said that I was gunna do something and peoples phones got stomped-on because of what somewhat thought I said, the value of quarters will go uo. (payphones)

    August 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Poop Flinger

    And when they start shooting to avert a protest AND your loved one happens to be standing wating on a train, then will it be justified?

    August 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mookie

    Good for BART, proactive response instead of waiting for the thugs and hoods to cripple transit operations. Public Safety is a serious issue, riot style attacks, and a charged 3rd rail, platform falls (pushing) are things most area commuters want nothing to do with. Let the media and the ACLU go pound sand, it is a transportation issue, and if that is not good enough let the Department of Homeland Security start arresting and charging these criminals who are caught leading or orchestrating these activities. Transit stations are no place for expressing your "freedom of speech".

    August 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. svann

    What kind of journalism is this? Why say Bart shut down cell phone service? Bart did not do it. A person gave the order. A good journalist would find out that person's name.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spartan13654

      Yes, Give the man a metal for having the balls to do the right thing.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NRA

    It's like the gov. ordering stores to stop selling ammo because someone said they were going to do something revolting.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
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