BART Defends Interruption Of Cellphone Service Against ACLU Complaints

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The American Civil Liberties Union stepped up its complaints Monday that the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency acted illegally last week when it cut off wireless and cellular service in an effort to stifle a protest, but agency spokesmen continued to defended the decision.

Officials with the Northern California chapter of the ACLU said they were meeting with the agency’s police chief late Monday afternoon as a precusor to determining whether to file a lawsuit against BART.

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>> BART’s Website Hacked & More Protests Planned

BART shut off wireless access at several San Francisco stations last Thursday evening to disrupt a planned demonstration on its subway lines. It appeared BART’s tactic worked because no protests occurred.

BART spokesman Jim Allison said that the cell phone disruptions were legal as the agency owns the property and infrastructure.

But ACLU attorneys in letters to BART and to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday likened BART’s installing wireless networks underground as a passenger service to a government entity building a park. “Government’s don’t have to build parks,” the organization said. “But once they do, they can’t lock out speech they disagree with.”

BART’s chief spokesman Linton Johnson said people are always allowed to protest outside of the fare gates at the BART stations, but not on the platforms or trains themselves.

“I personally welcome… anyone that wants to protest, as long as they do it safely,” Johnson said.

The planned protest last Thursday was in response to the fatal shooting of Charles Hill by BART police in the Civic Center station on July 3. On July 11, protesters gathered at the station and prevented trains from leaving by blocking the train doors, with one even climbing on top of a train.

During that demonstration, protesters “showed a propensity to create chaos on the platform, and that is unacceptable” because it jeopardizes customer and employee safety, Johnson said.

To prevent a similar disruption Thursday, BART temporarily suspended the wireless services because “we had knowledge ahead of time about the time, place and manner of how this illegal protest was going to take place, and were forced into a gut-wrenching decision of how we were going to stop it,” Johnson said.

He said the cell service was interrupted for three hours at four stations, where police and ambulances were then stationed in case of an emergency.

“We were forced into this decision,” he said. “This is not one we wanted to make.”

Johnson declined to say whether BART officials would interrupt cellphone service again for future protests, saying only that “we will staff accordingly and take appropriate measures,” including possibly closing stations temporarily.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. Lee White says:

    (Bart spokesman Linton) Johnson said riders “don’t have the right to free speech inside the fare gates.” — San Francisco Chronicle, 8/15/2011

    Now, I’m not in favor of what Anonymous did by any means, but I DO have the same constitutional rights inside or outside BART fare gates. Those may not include BART-provided cellular and Wi-Fi service, but I still have the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. Johnson used to be a TV reporter. I remember him from early in his career in Wichita, Kansas, where I was a radio reporter. Clearly, he slept through whatever press law class he might have taken. I can’t believe the Chronicle didn’t press him on this idiotic quote especially given the fact that the Bay Citizen reported that it was Johnson’s idea to turn off cellular service.

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/15/MNGT1KNJU1.DTL#ixzz1V8iEzeyB

    http://www.baycitizen.org/bart-police-shooting/story/bart-director-cell-phone-shutdown-didnt/

  2. Dexter Wong says:

    What does that have to do with BART and denial of cell phone service on the platform?

  3. Watchdog says:

    Shuting off Wireless is criminal, and a way of oppression.

    1. JWT says:

      Watchdog — yeah, and making people pay fares to ride is extortion, right?… The looney left at its best.

  4. Kay says:

    Think about if the protesters where to show up at your place of work and make a big demonstration inside the building where you work about something the company did? Would the company have the right to shut down a wireless system in the building? Would they have the right to call the police to keep their employees safe from harm and protect their property? You bet.

    I think there are anarchists that love to stir the pot, and the point they make is does more harm than good, which puts their efforts in a bad light. There are better ways to make a point than disrupting thousands of peoples lives on a public transit platform.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just for public information, BART is not a private company. Who exactly do you think owns those cell towers? Last year, $166 million in CA state sales tax went to BART along with over $80 million in federal dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Take a look if you don’t believe me.

    http://www.bart.gov/about/financials/index.aspx

  6. Anonymous says:

    There are more effective ways of compelling BART to address the concerns of the public than preventing commuters train’s from leaving. Organizations like BART are most effectively influenced educating the public on their unethical activities and seeking to reduce their sources of funding. Affecting these interests of BART’s directors, investors and creditors should be the goals of anyone who wishes to influence BART. If their officers are abusive or they choose to meet non-violent protests with electronic warfare, they must expect justified public outrage. Such outrage toward can constructively result in reform if it is channeled into efforts which cause the most reasonable choice for BART to make to be to reign in its officers and to find some means than censorship to keep its customers and employees safe.

    1. Anonymous says:

      There are more effective ways of compelling BART to address the concerns of the public than by preventing commuters’ trains from leaving. Organizations like BART are most effectively influenced by educating the public on their unethical activities and seeking to reduce their sources of funding. Affecting these interests of BART’s directors, investors and creditors should be the goals of anyone who wishes to influence BART. If their officers are abusive or they choose to meet non-violent protests with electronic warfare, they must expect justified public outrage. Such outrage can constructively result in reform if it is channeled into efforts which cause the most reasonable choice for BART to make to be to rein in its officers and to find some means other than blocking their political opposition’s communications in order to keep their customers and employees safe.

      I apologize for the poor grammar in the first attempt to post this comment.

    2. G.K. (not so Anonyomous) says:

      Anonymous, Great to see your user name applied more reasonably than the group of hackivists. At any rate, the art of civil disobedience seems to have been on the decline for a while now. The BART protests are evidence of this decline. There are certainly more constructive means of rally’s or protests to have been used in this situation. Bucking the system should never be the basic method for getting your cause recognized publicly.

      It’s my opinion that the protesters may be following the wrong organizers. Unfortunately, this happens. I’m just not confident that our local organizers nor the Anonymous hackivists have my best interests as a BART user at heart.

      While I don’t perceive BART or SF as an oppressive police state, I do think BART should address more succinctly their police officer’s methods. What they are doing currently is not working. That said, I do have sympathy for the cause our local protesters are so passionate about. A man is dead and that not a small issue. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

      However, one or fifty passengers deaths inside a BART station is not a valid excuse for interfering with my safety as a BART passenger to get their point across. I just won’t support their approach. And find BART handled things in the best way possible,

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