If there is any doubt that our democracies have morphed into dictatorships, one need only cite the recent shutdown of cell phone service in several of San Francisco's BART subway stations this past week to "prevent" a possible protest about the tragic shooting of a transient by BART police last month. And UK's Prime Minister David Cameron's threat to shut down Blackberry services and other social media has evolved into a coordinated response by the corporate owners of those media to work with the powers that be to prevent what they consider to be unwelcome demonstrations. Why do I feel as if I'm hearing dicta from the government of China rather than news in the "Free World".
The ACLU is appropriately protesting the actions in San Francisco. Clearly, customer safety was sacrificed during this mobile blackout. Children tethered by cell phones could not contact parents, doctors couldn't call their patients, and, God forbid, had there been an accident, no one would've been able to call 911. Sure, I suppose, the protesters had their plans disrupted, too. But think of the dangers to BART passengers if they couldn't use cell phones, if they wished, to learn about the protests and avoid them.
Can you imagine the furor in 1970 if Ma Bell had decided to cut landline services to universities so that students couldn't arrange protests against the Vietnam War? Unthinkable! Cell phones and social media are no different--they should not position themselves as tools of the government to monitor and tattle on the citizens. But, from Facebook to Blackberry, that horse is long out of the gate. Users beware.
If someone engages in an illegal act, there are legal pathways for law enforcement to investigate and catch the perpetrators. Evidence is presented to the courts, search warrants are drawn, and then private information, under supervision and within legal guidelines, can be accessed. Otherwise, we have entered 1984 territory--surrounded not just by Big Brother, but by his allied stool pigeons.
Social media executives can argue that they are private entities and select their services and customers. But the same argument can't be made by cell phone/wireless service providers who are under the jurisdiction of the FCC. It's easy: you get a license, you provide service. You stop service, you lose your license. And taxpayer-funded entities like BART have absolutely no right to turn against their "owners" and limit free speech.
The last decade has seen the erosion of so many of our civil liberties and rights. Yet, we still cling to the idea that we live in a democracy. The lack of a wireless signal is a clear signal that we do not. How many "bars" do we need to lose to understand that the prison gates are closing in on us?