BART Turns Off Mobile Phone Service At Station Because It Doesn't Want Protestors To Communicate

from the really-now? dept

With all the talk in the UK from politicians about shutting down mobile messaging services, it's worth pointing out that it apparently takes much less to shut down mobile service in the US at times. Jacob Appelbaum points out that BART -- the Bay Area Rapid Transit train system here in the California Bay Area -- apparently shut down all cell service at a station under the (false, as it turns out) belief that protesters were going to show up there:
As an added precaution, the agency shut off cellphone service on the station's platform. While Alkire said the tactic was an unusual measure, he said it was "a great tool to utilize for this specific purpose" given that the agency was expecting a potentially volatile situation.
That's really quite incredible, and I'm at a loss to see how that could be allowed. Because BART feared people protesting it literally shut down mobile phone service at its station? Since this particular station is underground, it has special equipment as regular cell towers don't reach the station. However, that shouldn't give BART officials the right to just turn off the service because they're unhappy that people might protest.

Filed Under: bart, free speech, mobile phones, protests, wireless
Companies: bart

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  1. icon
    qhartman (profile), 12 Aug 2011 @ 3:47pm

    Well, yes and no...

    OK, so I rarely am on the opposing side of articles / comments here, but this time it looks like i am.

    It's possible (even likely, and the rest of my opinion is based heavily on that assumption)that BART owns the equipment that is making cell phone communication possible on the subway. They are well within their rights to shut that gear down for whatever reason they like. Although BART (like many transit authorities) is loosely tied to the government, they aren't _really_ a government organization, so this isn't "state censorship" as suggested by others above. Even if they are a bona-fide government org, this "censorship" would be easy to avoid, make your calls from outside...

    In any case, they spend money (yes, a lot of money, DAS systems are really expensive, and this is probably a DAS) to provide that service as a convenience for their riders. If they have reason to believe that the availability of that service is going to make a potentially unsafe situation worse, disabling it temporarily makes sense, for a multitude of reasons.

    This isn't a case of shutting down service for huge numbers of people in large geographic areas (like in the UK), it's shutting it down for people in that particular subway station, where they wouldn't have service ANYWAY unless BART hadn't taken the extra effort to make it available.

    Granted, BART does have a sworn police service, which blurs the lines a bit, but this still isn't really comparable to the UK situation, the scope of it just doesn't fit. If they have prior knowledge of an event that is likely to jeopardize the safety of innocent bystanders, they are not only within their rights to take reasonable steps to counter it, they have a responsibility to do so. Based (solely) on the linked article, it sounds like the steps they took were reasonable. Given the close quarters of a subway station and the number of people involved, and the proximity to trains, there is a high likelihood that a protest there could get ugly fast.

    Finally, if we're going to be drawing parallels to the situation in the UK, let's also look at the other side. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the people involved in the riots there seem to have very little interest in creating a positive political change. Based on the coverage I've seen from MANY sources, it looks like they are just using that shooting as an excuse to go out and create some mayhem. A PROTEST is one thing, a RIOT is something else entirely. Given that context, it seems that the intent of the people promoting the protests at the BART station COULD HAVE BEEN similar.

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