San Francisco BART Police Shut Down Cell Phone Service In Mubarak Style Response to Protesters

Can't hear anything? It's not your network.

Determined to not let London be the first major Western city to implement a Hosni Mubarak style crackdown on communication methods or devices, San Francisco transportation police suspended wireless access in stations in order to prevent protesters from organizing. {CNET News}

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police have come under fire for fatally shooting a homeless man in July, and before that the shooting of Oscar Grant, who was shot in the back by an officer while lying on the ground restrained. The homeless man is alleged to have thrown a bottle at the police and waved a knife, activists believe the officers used excessive force.

A statement from BART said

“Organizers planning to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011 stated they would use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police. 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. BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.

Cell phone service was not interrupted outside BART stations. In addition, numerous BART Police officers and other BART personnel with radios were present during the planned protest, and train intercoms and white courtesy telephones remained available for customers seeking assistance or reporting suspicious activity.”

The ACLU of Northern California condemned the shutdown of cell phone service as the wrong response “whether it’s halfway around the world or right here in San Francisco.”

And that pretty much sums it up. While we can appreciate that service disruptions would have been an inconvenience to passengers and employees, there’s nothing that suggests protesters were planning anything violent or beyond the course of normal civil disobedience.  The same type of civil disobedience millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East have been fighting and dying for, and the same civil disobedience which is supposed to be protected under the First Amendment. Even if they were, we go back to the common sense use of technology by law enforcement and governments, which is to have officers in the same areas to ensure that protests don’t become violent or out of hand. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or killing an entire communication method because of a minority of rogue messages isn’t practical, sustainable or right.

That there are no tanks or weapons involved in the latest attacks on freedom to communicate and peacefully organize doesn’t make them any less repugnant than dictators and foreign regimes using similar tactics to stifle those who want to voice legitimate grievances.


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