Stop cell phone censorship

The BART board has proven itself unable to properly monitor and oversee its law-enforcement operations
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EDITORIAL The bizarre move by BART officials Aug. 11 to shut down cell phone service in the underground train stations made headlines around the world — and for good reason. It was, Wired Magazine reported Aug 15, apparently the first time in United States history that a public agency sought to block electronic communications as a way to prevent a political protest.

It came at a time when oppressive governments around the world have been disabling cell phone and internet services to frustrate protest organizers. And it followed months of abysmally bad behavior by the transit agency, which is trying to respond to yet another dubious BART police shooting. Civil liberties activists have issued statements of condemnation and outrage; state Sen. Leland Yee, who is also running for mayor, has called on the BART board to adopt policies preventing future shutoffs.

But the BART board has proven itself unable to properly monitor and oversee its law-enforcement operations. At this point, the state Legislature needs to step in.

It's not surprising that protesters have been swarming around BART stations this summer. The agency has a history of failing to control its police force, and when an officer shot and killed an apparently drunk man in the Civic Center station July 3, activists were fed up. BART responded badly, refusing to turn over video of the incident — and the more facts that came out, the worse the agency looked.

We understand the frustration that commuters felt when angry activists disrupted service for a brief period during the afternoon rush hour. And we understand BART's concern that further actions inside the stations could be difficult to control.

But let's remember: The BART board has never been particularly open to public input and most of its members show little interest in accountability. Over the past two decades, hundreds of people have appeared to speak at board meetings to demand a serious response to police shootings — and nothing ever happened. It took a particularly horrendous incident — a point-blank shooting of an unarmed man that was recorded on video — for the board to create even a modest police oversight program.

BART officials are trying to argue that cell phone service in the underground stations is a new service, something offered at the agency's discretion — as if BART were some sort of private café that gives its customers free wifi. But that ignores the fact that the Bay Area Rapid Transit District is a government agency, one that has no more business shutting down cell phone service than the White House does blocking a newspaper from publishing embarrassing secrets.

As a practical matter, the decision was foolish: The protesters may have been inconvenienced, but so were hundreds of others who may have been trying to make business calls or connect to family members. In political terms, it was inexcusable. Think about it: A public agency was intentionally disabling communications to prevent a political protest. That's about as bad as it gets.

We agree with Yee that the BART board ought to set a clear policy against any future attempts to control cell phone service for political purposes. But that's not likely to happen — and it won't be enough. The state Legislature needs to pass a measure specifically banning any public agency in California from disabling or interfering with any public communications system for political purposes. We can't wait to see BART lobbyists show up and try to oppose that one.

Comments

,You don't have the right to make a phone call. Deal with it.

These twits think they have the right to harrass tens of thousands of BART riders to make a point. They DO NOT.

I will not be held hostage to leftist twits who want to throw a tantrum. Take it to BART HQ in Oakland if you want to bitch. Leave me alone.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

Dear ignorant douche'

YOU may not value freedom of speech but those protesters do and they have every right to be there practicing their constitutional right. Now you "deal with it."

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

I think BART's real motivation for blocking cell phone use was concern about the embarrassment their hired police agency would cause them if caught shooting willy nilly into crowds of unarmed protesters, and for this reason they wanted to prevent citizens from filming the carnage.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

But I think you actually hit upon a very salient point. Up till now, everybody's been debating the legality of the effect on communication. But now that you mention it, you're probably dead on.

The real threat that BART was afraid of was not that people would communicate with each other. Most of the organizing was already done outside the station. The real threat was that people would film the brutality. They wanted to give police a free hand in using violence without the threat that some citizen heroes would defy the cover-up and tell the world what went on.

This makes it that much more sinister. It's amazing that nobody got killed at that protest. The protesters probably didn't realize the extent of the danger they faced.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

Whoa guys..

Camera phones can film whether they have a live connection or not, yes?

It is conceivable though that the police didn't want -live- feeds to media, FaceBook, etc.

Israel style media control...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

protest and riots in various parts of the world is that protestors quickly withdraw and re-group according to reports of police presence. They do this by using mobile phones and so it is quite legitimate to want to cut off the protestors from each other in order to better control the situation.

Photography wasn't inhibited in any way since that doesn't require a signal.

Posted by PaulT on Aug. 18, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

BART has voluntarily added cell phone repeaters to their system and the point of all this is that once they start to do so they are not allowed to stop? Am I reading this correctly?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 18, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

states that BART has a contractual obligation to always make available something that it voluntarily provides for no cost.

And nobody so far has cited any such statute, contract or service level agreement to indicate that BART provides such service on anything other than a discretionary basis.

IOW, it's a privilege and not a right or entitlement.

Posted by PaulT on Aug. 18, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

The FCC has made a point of issuing inordinately stiff fines to small businesses such as restaurants that only wish to have a quiet phone-free atmosphere, on the rationale that limited jammers might interfere with an emergency call. So the dispositive question now is simple: how big a fine will FCC impose on BART for its unprecedented August 11th widespread, intentional and malicious disruption of cell phone service, and the attendant liabilities regarding public safety?
And if there is no appropriate fine, then we must understand that civil cyberwarfare is now underway. Other municipalities will take up the strategy, and worry about the legalities later. The lauded farcebook and flitter which FCC Chairman Genachowski advocates to form the bases of our emergency communications are now revealed to be the ultimate tool of misinformation and crowd control.
The only rational response to infinitely predictable Federal inaction is increased civil disobedience towards the FCC’s continued mismanagement of broadband, emergency communications, and its responsibilities under the the Communications Act of 1934, as conspiratorially amended by Genachowski’s industry-driven team via the Telecom Act of 1996—you know, the very same law that pre-empts towns from resisting cell towers from being crammed down their throats in the first place!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

"The state Legislature needs to pass a measure specifically banning any public agency in California from disabling or interfering with any public communications system for political purposes. "

Won't and can't happen: the FCC runs the airwaves. That's where pressure needs be applied.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

"The state Legislature needs to pass a measure specifically banning any public agency in California from disabling or interfering with any public communications system for political purposes. "

Won't and can't happen: the FCC runs the airwaves. That's where pressure needs be applied. Everyone needs to file an interference complaint against BART on the FCC site. That is the first avenue of legal recourse for wireless affairs. If FCC doesn't respond, every trial lawyer in the area will be thinking CLASS ACTION.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

here to get a cell phone jammer to stop it.
http://www.jammerall.com/

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

Really good post!!There’s no doubt that the birth of mobile phones gave total convenience to people when it comes to communication. But there are times that you just want to control the calls coming in because you are busy at the time and just could not answer the call at the moment. Then,a cell jammer is needed largely!
http://www.espow.com/jammers/security-surveillance-jammer.html

Posted by Guestgeenie on Nov. 01, 2011 @ 10:54 pm