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San Francisco’s BART Shuts Down Cell Service, Fearing Protests

San Francisco’s BART Shuts Down Cell Service, Fearing Protests
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British Prime Minister David Cameron found himself compared to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and other rulers of authoritarian Arab countries for proposing to “ban those suspected of planning criminal acts from using social media and other digital communication tools” after reports surfaced that rioters in London and other British cities had used Twitter, Blackberry messaging and other social media tools to organize violence. But BART — San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system — already went ahead and did a  ”MuBARTek,” shutting off cell service at four “select” stations from 4:00pm to 7:00 pm last Thursday after learning that a protest under the “No Justice, No BART” banner might be held.

As it turned out, no protest was held, but BART still shut down the service, a move that could lead to unflattering comparisons of BART with the Chinese Communist government, who, after anonymous calls appeared on the Internet for a “Jasmine Revolution” inspired by the protests in the Middle East, flooded areas where demonstrations were to be held with police in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere.

As Al Jazeera reports, protesters had planned to demonstrate to condemn the killing of Charles Blair Hill, who was shot by BART police officers on July 3 after they received complaints about a drunken man. Eight days after Hill’s death, protesters shut down three BART stations Civic Center, Powell Street and 16th Street Mission stations July 11; trains drove through the stations without stopping. Police said that Hill had lunged at them with a knife; Hill was shot in the torso. BART transit officers already came under heavy criticism in 2009, after a white officer, Johannes Mehserle, shot an African-American man, Oscar Grant, while Grant was being restrained on the ground with his hands behind his back. Due to huge public outcry, the trial had to be held in Los Angeles; Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served less than two years.

In response to BART’s shutdown of cell service, the hacker group Anonymous launched a campaign, OpBART, to overwhelm it with faxes and emails. Posts also started to appear on Twitter with news of the shutdown using the hashtag #muBARTek, a “mash-up” of Mubarak’s name and BART.

As Al Jazeera says, BART has offered varying explanations, with possibly different legal ramifications, for how the shutdown was carried out:

In its first statement, BART said it had asked mobile service providers to stop their service. Then, a BART deputy police chief told the local online news outlet SF Appeal that BART turned off the services itself, as it is allowed to do under its contracts with the providers — Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. About the same time, BART changed its official statement — which was posted on its website – to say that “BART temporarily interrupted service.”

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4:03AM PDT on Sep 25, 2011


5:31AM PDT on Aug 16, 2011

Thanks for the article.

9:33PM PDT on Aug 15, 2011

Good to know. Thanks for posting.

9:41AM PDT on Aug 15, 2011

What BART did was unnecessary and wrong but limited to subterranean service (mainly the tube from Oakland to SF). In most stations, trains and elsewhere, service was unaffected.

9:46PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

Now, if I recall correctly, California put serious restrictions on gun ownership because people might use guns to harm other people. Are they planning to take the same approach to cell phones now?

Presumably this will delay anyone planning any sort of violence long enough for them to get to Wal-Mart and buy FRS radios.

7:52PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

Well put Claudia O.

4:14PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

Thanks Kristina!~

3:17PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

Fortunately 99% of the people are decent and law abiding unlike criminals.
Don't take the means of communication away from legitimate citizens.

1:56PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

This action was wrong. I was deeply offended by one official's comment in particular. He said that our freedom was not worth risking lives. In fact, many many Americans have risked or lost their lives in the name of freedom. As a child I was taught to honor Patrick Henry's cry, 'Give me liberty or give me death!' Our freedoms are of utmost importance. It is to me shocking that they are put at risk by our own country. Yet I see them eroded day by day. As we lose our freedoms we do not become safer. On the contrary, our lives and well-being become more at risk. There have lately been developed aappalling crowd control devices. For example, one can give individuals 2nd and 3rd degree burns. These weapons have been developed for use against our own people. How is this safer???

12:45PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

Why does anyone think this is a bad thing? If it stops these people from destroying the property of others, why not? They aren't protesting against the government, they are burning and looting private property. They have a right to protest the actions of their government, they do not have the right to steal and burn and attach other citizens for no reason at all.

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