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. Marge

    That wasn't a good idea. Suppose there was an emergency and they couldn't get help. Some times officials do dumb things.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      What did you do before there were cell phones?

      August 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      @Neal: Are you seriously that stupid? Why would you even ask that? What the hell is the point in advancing in technology with your logic? Do you not drive a car to work? You're on a computer for christ sakes. Which means you're using electricity. Something else that was also invented. But hey if some agency says you shouldn't have access to your possesions they must be right yeah? Can I have all your stuff? You dont need any of it since humans at one point lived without anything besides food and water! Please get real.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Neal

    Good!!! shut down these idiots anyway they see fit to protect the safety of the public. How would like to be a commuter with your kid or baby and run into these morons that could threaten your life. Great job BART and i hope other cities and countries do the same.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      So you would rather a commuter get attacked with their child and have NO possible way of calling for help? It's the polices job to protect the cities. If they knew were they where going to assemble (which they did) that's were they should have beefed up secruity. I don't believe in what they were protesting, however taking away communication is wrong.

      Remember anything you learned in US History? I'll refresh your memory on the Boston Massacre.
      The Boston Massacre, called the Boston Riot by the English, was an incident on March 5, 1770, in which British redcoats killed five civilian men. It helped spark the rebellion in some of the British American colonies, which culminated in the American Revolutionary War. The British increase in troops in Boston led to a tense situation that erupted into brawls between soldiers and civilians. The troops fired after being threatened by a mob. Three rioting civilians were killed at the scene of the shooting, eleven were injured, and two died after the incident.

      England saw these protesters as a threat to the public. So they silenced them, which is exactly what you would want. You really need to re-think about what you said. Never give your rights over to a government.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Deepdiver

    What about someone who needs to reach a family member in an emergency? Those right wingers didn't think about that while destroying free speech.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      wait till the next stop get off and make your call. when was the last time you had an emergency to call a relative on the subway anyway idiot.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aristocles

      Your first reaction is to blame the right-wingers. Typical liberal tripe. This happened in the most liberal nest of liberalism in the country, and you blame the right wing for it.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Right Wing Thugsta Killa

      Yes when I think of right wing bible politics I think San Francisco. Lol

      August 13, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • chuck


      It doesn't matter when the last emergency occurred. IDIOT!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Been there done that

    “This is a transit agency, and our job is not to censor people,” BART official Lynette Sweet was quoted as saying.

    She's right, it's big brother's job. Now everybody point the finger at each other and make the deliberate action look like a mistake!

    August 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. shewbox

    Its kinda funny that when countries overseas do this to its people the U.S. condemns it, but when it happens in this country to prevent protests from happening the gov't allows it to happen!! LOL What a bunch of two faced morons running this place!

    August 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • jack johnson

      This was not a protest!!! this was too shut down service that effects anyone useing mass transit. They pay to ride , and if they allow idiots to stop the trains then what is next. You are not allowed to use cell phones on airplanes so why is B.A.R.T. differant?

      August 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Appalled - 1st Amendment Rights Please

      I may not like what you say, but I will fight to preserve your right to say it. FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sara

    Does the transit system have the right to cut off public telecommunication access? If so, then they were within their rights. If not, they should be fined by the regulatory agencies.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Prometheus

    Hmmmm... This article got me thinking. How is it that BART is any position to 'shut off' phone service? Are they the service provider? If this action was not 'authorized' by "higher ups" then how was this accomplished? Did 'pete' call his buddy 'dave' and simply say; "Yo dave, MY MAN! Listen...we're kinda having a thing here...could you flip the switch and cut off phone service?... Yeah? Thanks dude."


    August 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not very smart, but I know this one

      You turn off the power to the repeater units. Bart can easily do that.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • JF

      No BART isn't a service provider, but my guess is that cell phone service is too weak in many area BART services so they add repeaters to boost the signals so people get service. They should be able to turn those repeaters off pretty easily and effectively shut off cell service...

      August 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    You all miss the moral of this story. If it were not for the ever increasing lack of self-control being exhinited by the american peoples, the US government wouldn't see the need to increase controls over US. Big-government sees the need for increased controls...do you?

    August 13, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      Don't you mean the ever-increasing lack of control of our elected members of Congress?

      August 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Hell no! The lack of control of a few should not strip rights away from the rest of the law abiding. Since humans murder we should all just be locked up at birth, never be allowed to interact with each other.

      Since people kill with guns we should ban all guns right? That's what England does and look at their crime rate! Oh wait it's higher than ours by a lot.


      I cannot believe you would want to give up your rights because someone else doesn't deserve theirs.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Appalled - 1st Amendment Rights Please

      AMEN John! If we won't ban a gun because "it's not the gun that kills," then we can't ban social media because it's not Facebook or Twitter that causes riots, it's people who cause riots. You can't have it both ways.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Liberty Queen

    BART is a Fascist agency whose wanna be enforcers shoot people in the back and kill them without legal justification for the use of lethal force. It's Time for the San Francisco Bay Area Spring. Anonymous: place shut down BART.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      good answer, shut down Bart. then how would you get around moron?

      August 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • chuck


      Get around by walking or driving. MORON!

      August 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Liberty Queen

    Oops! Anonymous: PLEASE shut down BART. One more reason why We The People need our own Internet Servers.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Peter

    Let's for a minute consider a different scenario. How would people feel if an agency cut off telephone service (traditional wired, not cell phone) to a specific neighboorhood because of a potential attack/riot/whatever? Everyone from all walks of life would be up at arms and with reason.

    So how is it different when BART (or anyone else) cuts off cell phone service? Irregardless if they did it by turning off repeaters or by deploying jammers, what difference does it make? In this day and age, communications by any means is not a "right", but it is nonetheless a basic service. The companies whom we pay to provide our communications needs (phone, wireless carriers or even ISPs) are in the business of doing just that – not to filter, monitor or censor what anybody says on their lines.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      To begin with, there was never any cell phone service inside any of BART's underground stations. BART provided repeaters out of courtesy for convenience. They simply shut off their own internal repeaters, but riders can still go above ground to make a call. Emergency can still be reported by using the emergency call boxes all throughout the station. You should appreciate that BART is providing cell repeaters to its riders. They can just pull out all cell repeaters within their tunnels and resort back to the state they were in 5 years ago.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Troy from S'port

    The guy sprawled out on top of the train looks like he's wearing Depends.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. alphajonny

    Really? Most of you would not have went but the ones that might have would have most likely caused civil disorder, disrupted peoples work schedules, and a few would have caused legal problems. This social networking to create mass protest idea has got to go. Easy to hide behind a screen to get a point out but harder to go there and control what you create.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Appalled - 1st Amendment Rights Please


      August 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Once again, England once viewed us as citizens causing social disorder. They tryed to supress us and look what we did. Fought them off and formed this Country. Why do you think we have all these freedoms? Because at one point we said enough was enough and fought to become our own Country. The starting of this nation started with protest, no matter what you never want that right taken away from you.

      Do you think the people in Eygpt should have been forced to stay silent instead of change their government?

      August 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff

    1)When the police stop killing unarmed civilians. There will be peace
    2) When judges stop treating cop crimes with special treatment because they work with them in the same buildings.
    3) When police can not rely on there Unions and fellow officers to liie and protect them. (there will be peace).
    4) When the police can no longer have guns like in England, because they have shown they can not handle them.
    5) If citizens who have had a un armed family member killed by police, killed a random police officers family member, then they might start policing their own. because they would not want it to happen to there family. (its in the bible)
    6) All states and towns hire non union private companies to do the police work, who don't work in the same buildings as judges so there is no favoritism or leniency toward cops that murder innocent un armed people.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • alphajonny

      Be a cop or in the military and find out just what they deal with. You would be surprised at how many times they don't pull the trigger when you can be sure you would have.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      What you ask for is impossible. Humans can be cops, thus you will have courruption. Most cops are good, and I am thankful for all the crap they go through on a daily basis to make us safer. Even when I have been pulled over I've never gotten mad at them, maybe because I deserved it. But because I was honest with the cop about my speed I was going and didn't try to BS him he marked me down as going 80 instead of 90.

      Point being, humans aren't perfect so you will never have a perfect system.

      August 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PeevedinL.A.

    This is ridiculous and screams "Big Brother".

    August 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
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