SF Transit System Blocks Cell Phone Service To Thwart Protests

0816-bart-protests-Transit-Phone_full_380Mobile technology may be a powerful tool for grassroots organizing, but the flip side of the coin is that authorities can block such technology when they wish to crack down on dissent — case in point, San Francisco’s public transit system. SF Weekly writes:

This might just be a first in the annals of Bay Area transit agencies’ political suppression (such as those annals are). BART has fessed up to jamming cell-phone signals yesterday at downtown stations in San Francisco in order to disrupt protests over the death of Charles Hill, who was shot by BART police on July 3.

Here is what BART had to say in a statement on its tactics that was released today:

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.

CNet reported that cell service was interrupted at four SF stations, and that BART acted unilaterally, only informing mobile-service providers after the fact.

Of course, BART’s move drew immediate howls from advocates of free speech and civil liberties. Here is what the ACLU of Northern California had to say in a blog post:

All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, saying it’s anti democratic and a violation of the right to free expression and assembly. Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

Regardless of one’s personal stance on government’s power to impede free communication among its citizens — and BART seems to have taken great liberties with that power, to say the least — this reaction to protests seems boneheaded on a few levels.

For instance, isn’t it a terrible idea to cut off law-abiding passengers’ contact with the outside world at a time when potentially violent protests are taking place? What if somebody wanted to call 911, only to discover that he was unable to because of BART’s effort to suppress demonstrators?

It’s also a terrible PR move. In the aftermath of a controversial officer-involved fatal shooting, BART probably doesn’t want to invite comparison with the likes of, say, Hosni Mubarak. But that is exactly what it has done.

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  • StillAtMyMoms

    Not surprising.  Instead of bullets and batons, law enforcement will now be utilizing EMPs and chaff grenades to disable electronic devices.  They are just merely perpetuating the aggression and hostility.  And so the racket continues…..

    Goddamn, there is a hidden hand in all of our actions.  You’ll be incredibly naive to believe otherwise.

    Welcome to the Police State.  Bow to your master.  I’m going be with the late George Carlin from now on: Just sit back and take notes on the freak show known as life.

  • StillAtMyMoms

    Not surprising.  Instead of bullets and batons, law enforcement will now be utilizing EMPs and chaff grenades to disable electronic devices.  They are just merely perpetuating the aggression and hostility.  And so the racket continues…..

    Goddamn, there is a hidden hand in all of our actions.  You’ll be incredibly naive to believe otherwise.

    Welcome to the Police State.  Bow to your master.  I’m going be with the late George Carlin from now on: Just sit back and take notes on the freak show known as life.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Its also a stern reminder to activists to study the past and keep info routes from yesteryear in mind…you can’t turn off a hand cranked press with a single button downtown. Back up power and hand flyers, old fashioned word of mouth and signage…these things can’t be forgotten…and may become more valuable than ever in an era where techno-war against a greater power is difficult if not impossible for most of us.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Its also a stern reminder to activists to study the past and keep info routes from yesteryear in mind…you can’t turn off a hand cranked press with a single button downtown. Back up power and hand flyers, old fashioned word of mouth and signage…these things can’t be forgotten…and may become more valuable than ever in an era where techno-war against a greater power is difficult if not impossible for most of us.

  • Anonymous

    fascist tactics through and through.

  • Jin The Ninja

    It’s here. Fascism i mean. It’s not coming, it’s here.

  • Anonymous

    For those not following this in the news, it completely backfired on them. BART’s been completely shut down at points due to protests. Peaceful protests. To which they deployed the fucking SWAT team. This just after yet another unprovoked shooting (this time of a homeless man).

    But it’s not the protesters that are going to be the decider here. The chief convenience of taking the BART is that those who use it to commute can do part of their daily work while they’re commuting. It’s way faster to drive, but driving creates time that is essentially useless, and the local culture is such that useless time is looked down on in a way that no other part of the States does. This means all our highly connected, big name, high power digital companies are losing productivity. BART may ignore protesters, but they won’t ignore the big names in the business community coming down on them.

    I consider this reason number 6,023 that I’m thankful I work from home. Otherwise I’d be in hella trouble finding my way to work through the BART shutdowns.

  • quartz99

    For those not following this in the news, it completely backfired on them. BART’s been completely shut down at points due to protests. Peaceful protests. To which they deployed the fucking SWAT team. This just after yet another unprovoked shooting (this time of a homeless man).

    But it’s not the protesters that are going to be the decider here. The chief convenience of taking the BART is that those who use it to commute can do part of their daily work while they’re commuting. It’s way faster to drive, but driving creates time that is essentially useless, and the local culture is such that useless time is looked down on in a way that no other part of the States does. This means all our highly connected, big name, high power digital companies are losing productivity. BART may ignore protesters, but they won’t ignore the big names in the business community coming down on them.

    I consider this reason number 6,023 that I’m thankful I work from home. Otherwise I’d be in hella trouble finding my way to work through the BART shutdowns.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    guardian.co.uk Monday 16 November 2009 Barack Obama criticises internet censorship at meeting in China

    If China did this the NY Times and the Brit press would be all over this, crowing about free speech and democracy.  Where’s Obama’s statement about this censorship?

    Google made a big show out of not pulling out of China because of censorship, where’s Google’s statement protesting this?

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    guardian.co.uk Monday 16 November 2009 Barack Obama criticises internet censorship at meeting in China

    If China did this the NY Times and the Brit press would be all over this, crowing about free speech and democracy.  Where’s Obama’s statement about this censorship?

    Google made a big show out of not pulling out of China because of censorship, where’s Google’s statement protesting this?

  • BuzzCoastin

    guardian.co.uk Monday 16 November 2009 Barack Obama criticises internet censorship at meeting in China

    If China did this the NY Times and the Brit press would be all over this, crowing about free speech and democracy.  Where’s Obama’s statement about this censorship?

    Google made a big show out of not pulling out of China because of censorship, where’s Google’s statement protesting this?

  • http://www.ringcentral.com/phone-service/index.html phone service

    It is against the law to block the mobile phone services just to thwart the protesters. Unless Martial Law is implemented, this action is illegal!

  • http://www.ringcentral.com/phone-service/index.html phone service

    It is against the law to block the mobile phone services just to thwart the protesters. Unless Martial Law is implemented, this action is illegal!