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. vrim

    These are the same cops who attempted to go around and "confiscate" all cell phones in the crowd after one of their "officers" shot Oscar Grant to death in 2009.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott in NH

      I think if they beat enough people they get a promotion and a transfer to Fullerton PD

      August 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      Lets all play our violins for the poor rabble who were all set to stir up trouble, and where thwarted.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tcaud


      August 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bart Simpson

    @Marat...duh. It still amounts to people being deprived of a service that they had become accustomed to, and for no known reason...just a hunch.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cesar

    This is such a gray area.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Istrian61

      No, it is a "gay" area....

      August 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • world press

      Nothing gray here ,, murder is illegal,,,shutting down cell sites is illegal!

      August 14, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Corvus1

    Scary sh it right there.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. W

    If BART is providing a repeater to provide a "service" to their customers, if there is no cell service in the subway, why can't they turn it off? If someone wants to cry about their cell service being cut off, they should have stayed above ground. Unfortunately several people not involved in the planned event I'm sure were impacted by cutting off service, and that's a shame. But in order to protect the public good I say they were in their right. BART didn't stop Free Speech, they temporarily suspended cell service on their trains. You want Free Speech go outside. Regarding the Prime Minister proposing a crack down on social media – great idea BUT it should have been done several days earlier. When the technology of social media becomes a weapon (inciting riots, used to cause harm to people, or lead someones suicide) it's time for the government to take steps to protect its people.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      The problem is where does it end? Before long are we in the same situation as China, censoring everything and anything that could "possibly" lead to "terrorist" activities or "subversive" actions by the public? Protection as a valid reason only goes so far-John Adams tried to argue that for the Alien and Sedition Acts, and he's still vilified for it today by historians.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Many cell towers are built by private investors and lease the equipment to phone companies. Because they are cell service, the owners can't just ambiguously shut them down on their own say-so because they suspect someone is saying things they dont like. That is what BART did here.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • theboosh

      "in order to protect the public good" Listen to you....... that phrase has been used before – stop the newspapers, TV, radio anything to prevent free press/communication. You are so smug now because, well it's not YOUR cause now – just wait until one is YOUR CAUSE. GET IT! It's the slow creep of rights erosion that you cavalierly disregard -and you call yourself a patriot of American ideals of the few freedoms that separate us from most of the world!

      August 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • world press


      August 14, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. What makes US different

    Obesity. Oh, and the largest debt in human histroy. Are we going even deeper in debt so we can afford to eat more?

    August 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. t

    freedom first... go Anonymous

    August 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Evan

    Hopefully no onewill require immediate medical care. If someone can't use their phone to call 911 and the person dies, BART should be sued.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Thinking

      Another great American trait. Sue? I am sure the risk of life threatening injury not getting attention is much lower if the police and authorities are not dealing with a protest.
      Seems BART is damned if the do and damned if they don't.

      August 13, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bart Simpson

    The gov. isn't trying to "keep US safe" when they overstrp their bounds. They are doing whatever they can to control US, since we obviously refuse to control our own behavior as a people. If we had self-control, we wouldn't need governmental controls to keep US safe from other Americans.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SIllyHIppies

    These silly hippies need worry about other things. LIke the price of weed.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dougie_II

    What a bunch of NAZIS!
    I would expect something like this... if it were China!

    August 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BART Simpson

    @Melissa: Shut up and whip me up a grande 2pacaccino.. Or a double shot espresso carmello.. Make it snappy. I'm Bart Simpson who the he!! Are you?

    August 13, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BART Simpson

    I'm the real BART Simpson and I just took out Homer, Marge, and Ned Flanders.. I buried them in the basement next to my pet lizard. Sweet victory.. Cowabunga Man.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Oh! poor lizard, the company it gotta keep...Lol!

      August 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steve Lyons

    Clearly this is a breach of the first amendment done in the name of "public safety" Bart needs to be made private and stripped from the hands of government.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bluemoondrop

    BOOOOO. And that goes for BART, and the protestors who try and use flash mobbing as a method.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
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