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. Sad Day in America

    Dear BART Goebbles would be so proud of you!

    First they go after WTO protestors, but I was busy at work
    Then they go after the BART protestors, but I agreed because I didn't want to be late
    Then they came after me and it was to late.....
    This isn't a slippery slope, it's the first amendment being pushed out of an airplane.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Grendel Arrowsmith

    Why in the hell does the BART allow cell phones to be active in the first place? The last thing I want to hear on the subway is people yakking it up on their phones. Unfortunately, even here in New York we're not entirely free of cell phones on the subway, because people can often do so when on the elevated tracks, but at least the majority of the time that's impossible, because we're underground.

    The subways are for reading, sleeping, and getting to your location. That's it.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mad Hatter

    BART was making sure people were safe. That is a priority!!! They can choose not to provide a service.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      Even if BART owns the towers (which I am doubting) there are still rules that must be followed. If these towers are owned by cell phone companies and merely adjacent to BART property and running off their power grid, there would be an agreement between BART and the cell phone company. If that's the case BART would be in violation of that agreement. If none of this is the case and BART does own those towers, I would not be surprised if they are still in violation of FCC rules and perhaps the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • bartfart


      August 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • TR

      Giving up freedom for a little security? You deserve neither.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      They don't own the towers, but they so own the signal repeaters which enable the cell phones to reach the surface towers that otherwise would not get reception underground.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      I would imagine they use a repeater system to get the signals underground, so in that sense they would own the equipment.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Even the police can not break laws to protect people.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Making sure people were safe? What about if someone needed to call 911? After 9/11 we have given away so many of our freedoms for secruity. We are dishonoring the people who gave their lives to make this country what it is. Should they start banning religions next? Ban christianity because we dont want to cause another holy crusades? Do you see were that dark train of thought takes you?

      Giving up freedoms for safty is not worth it. Both Republicans and Democrats would like us to keep doing so. It makes their job a hell of a lot easier. They are supposed to serve us, however we are allowing them to supress us. In case you didn't know the government LOVES being invovled and knowing about everything we do. Republicans are supposed to be against that, yet everything they have done in the past decade has made them all the more involved.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JJ

    A violation of FCC regulations

    August 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tiddingwright

    Civilization is unraveling

    August 13, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rktman71

    Good lord SF is inhabited by about the most hypocritical bunch of folks possible.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jazzzzzzzz

    sorry I cant post the rest of this! it won't let me D-A-M-N-I-T

    August 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • bartfart

      "It" is after you. Time to panic.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. short Memory

    It starts with BART shutting down your cell phone and ends with


    How soon we forget.......

    August 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Philip

    It is our own lack of self-control that has led to increased governmental controls. Behave yourself, and Uncle Sam will leave you free to do or say whatever you want.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      Sounds like Communism.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • areyoumorons

      liberty is inverse to license.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Max Brooks

    Kees guess they have to landline each other to plan their riots....

    August 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RD

    Just do what the police tell you to do and there won't be any trouble. Why can't people understand this basic concept?

    August 13, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      What police? It was BART breaking FCC LAWS

      August 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Because the police are always correct right? The government is always to be trusted without question. People like you are why we are slowly losing our freedoms.


      This recently happened to a homeless scitzo in fullerton california. They beat the homeless man to the point of death. He was resisting arrest however they wrongly thought he was breaking into cars which we know now for sure he wasn't. They are beating him to death as he is screaming for his Dad. Police while most of the time are on our side, some of the time they are not.

      We have the right to protest, no agency should ever be able to turn off our communication. What if someone needed medical attention but couldn't dial out to 911? Reguardless it's our right to protest peacefully, if they weren't doing it peacefully arrest them. Never cut off our communication with the world, that's criminal.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. wondrcat

    Listen here, Mad Hatter and all the rest of you that think BART was ok in cutting off cell service: If it's ok for BART to decide when it's ok for us to speak or not to speak, where do they stop? We CANNOT allow these corporate PIGS to strip us of our free speech and right to assemble and protest. Besides, who are these idiots anyway? They can PREDICT violence? How do they know? They care NOTHING about our safety–only about the almighty dollar.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Philip

    @BART Simpson..."long-suffering" does not mean what your simple mind thinks...you hear the word "suffer" and equate it with a painful experience. Long-suffering simply means that you put-up with your neighbors, your american neighbors who rob you. For example, if your neighbor steals your TV, you wouldn't "make my day" over it, as if the true penalty for stealing a TV was the death-penalty.. You would exhibit some long-suffering and miss a few programs.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Poop Flinger

      HEY PHILIP. You are missing some NASCAR reruns on ESPN 2.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. HW

    Ever since 9/11 I have seen how our local, county, state and federal government as well as its agencies slowly but surely reducing Ameirican's civil rights. Those right were acquire through countless battles at the start of the nation. Yet, in the 21st. C. those rights are being eliminated. Cutting off cell phone service is tantamount to what the Germans did to their own people; that is: Broadcast lie after lie, untill they themselves believed in them. The question, of course, is whether we 21st. C. Americans are going to stand by and allow our civil rights to be diminished. I guess only time will tel.. Of course, I hope I am not alive to see the day when America turns Fascist or Nazist.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • areyoumorons

      Yes, our rights are diminished, but through air rights and the proprietary facilities that this privatized public transport provides at their own expense; they reserve the right to disallow or deny service for a variety of reasons, chief among them "safety". And they probably were keeping people safe, but safe in this case very specifically reads as Controlled. It is a fearsome beast, but if we can't figure out how to coordinate an organic protest without cell phones, then we are a pretty apathetic culture indeed.

      August 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. forgetthis

    What if someone actually needed help? BART would be liable. Am afraid BART has bitten off more than they could chew.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
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