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. DGfromMI

    Massive...I repeat....Massive peaceful demostrations are the answer...Lets clog the streets and bring transportation to a standstill...Fill te streets with people and parked cars to our messages across loud and clear....

    August 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Blessed Geek

    My hypothetical conjecture of the situation ... (I am thinking San Franciscans dislike having the city called San Frans – sorry)

    Iranian and Syrian news agencies report that London and San Frans authorities are taking steps to muffle revolution by disabling the internet to ensure that the people's revolution cannot be aided by social networks like twitter and facebook. They report that the fascist authorities are reading rebels' twitter and facebook messages to identify and arrest them.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jazzzzzzzz

    If a Christian has no self-control, or loses what he has, how easy for him to slip back to the ways of the flesh and be disqualified so as not to inherit the blessings of God’s kingdom! How foolish, then, not to strive to produce this fruitage too, namely, self-control! One shows love if he has self-control.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jazzzzzzzz

    Obviously I need to practice that with my friend... sorry dude

    August 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Xenophon

    As stated, if the repeaters or towers belonged to BART then there is nothing wrong that has happened. I am a survivalist and a prepper by nature and even I agree with that. Cell phone coverage is a privilege not a right (at least not yet...but probably one day at the rate society advances). If they actively blocked cell coverage then they definitely broke the law...especially considering I cannot use a cell blocker to keep my daughter off Facebook at the dinner table.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. troll hunter

    cell phone service isn't a right, it's provided by bart as an added service to its customers. if you want to protest you'll just have to do it at the above ground stations. if you're smart enough to use the technology you should be smart enough to go to plan b.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |

      I agree that if the cell towers belong to BART, then they have a right to do with what they please. I'm glad they shut them down...

      August 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    @HW...yer alive now aren't ya? If you cant see that bothe the (D) and the (R) have both combined their personal financial interests with the Pentagon enforcing them...you are blind. Our gov. IS a corporate-fascist one already. Wake up man!

    August 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. total non sense

    So a CRININAL got shot and now openly CRIMINAL peoples want to protest? they should have let them fill in the target stattion then open fire.... there is simply not excuse to be ABOVE THE LAW PERIOD. and cirminals need to get a CLEAR message to understand this simple fact.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • jdizzle1337

      total non sense..... fitting name.

      You propose to teach "criminals" (aka protesters) a lesson by mass murdering them? You might make a good adviser for a 3rd world Authoritarian regime. Im sure that after the BART officers rounded protesters up in a room and "opened fire" as you put it, that would solve all current and future problems.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. joeinalabama

    I hate to tell all you folks, but there was life before cell phones.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      That's the stupidest thing I keep hearing from people. Hate to tell you but there was a time before everything. Then we invented it and used it. Just because cell phones are kinda new, not really, we should live without them? Should I live without a car as well? Should you learn to live without power in your house since we used to be without electricity at one point in our past? You have to keep up with the times. Most people NEED a cell phone.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rendition

    Put down the bowl & get a job Hippie!

    August 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jazzzzzzzz

    I am an A-S-S at times not slowing down to think. My friend would never post something like that about me.
    ALL TOGETHER " MARY IS AN A-S-S" for thinking her friend would say such a thing.
    so when ever you see me post just refer to me as the A-S-S

    August 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. 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 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. QuietStormX

    When I read and see News of something like this overseas I think this is preventing people from free speach. I never thought it would happen here in the United States without rules to prevent Free Speach. I think this is going to be shot down quick. I can see it now someone is hurt in the effected areas and they can't contact for help? And all the police I saw they used just to show. Sitting or standing around, how much did that cost.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Been there done that

    Welcome to 1984. Big brother's watching.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norm

      Brought to you by a bunch of liberal Democrats.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. FxGentleman

    I live in a major metropolitan area on the east coast, but have been following the stories from SF. The shootings are indeed reprehensible and those who did them deserve punishment if needed and an investigation should be done to find out why they happened and implement changes to avoid them in the future. That said, protestors trying to interfere with the operation of the mass transit system are wrong. No matter which way you want to paint the situation, two wrongs do not make a right. If BART shuts down the repeaters and some people are inconvenienced because they can not use their cellphones while on the subway for a short time, it is not the end of the world. In the time it takes to ride the train to their destination, I am sure a rider can wait long enough to exit the station to make their call like people did in the days before cellphones existed. As for this being a preemptive measure, it makes sense. It is better to be prepared and err on the side of caution then to not and have chaos erupt, like we saw recently in England and in Seattle years ago when authorities failed to do so. If someone tried to disrupt mass transit here, regardless of the cause or whether I did or did not support it, I would favor the authorities over the protestors.

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