BART police shut off cell phone service the other day for a few hours at a number of underground stations, raising questions of restrictions of freedom of speech and access to the internet, and making fears and concerns and conspiracy theories that the government and major phone and internet access providers would be restricting access for political reasons.
This could be the first time that such a shut-down occurred within the US. Previously, this kind of intentional removal of access to phone and internet service has been done in totalitarian states, by dictators.
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Chief Spokesperson Linton Johnson put the blame on protesters, suggesting that BART had "no other option" when it shut off cellphone service to the underground stations.
BART was responding to its understanding, based on monitoring on-line communications, that cellphones would be used to coordinate protests being planned by the group, No Justice, in response to a series of killings by BART police.
Johnson stated, "Our job is to provide safe transport for our customers". I blame the protesters for what we had to do."
Here's the statement BART released and posted online.
Statement on temporary wireless service interruption in select BART stations on Aug. 11
Organizers planning to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011 stated they would use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police. A civil disturbance during commute times at busy downtown San Francisco stations could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators. BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.
Cell phone service was not interrupted outside BART stations. In addition, numerous BART Police officers and other BART personnel with radios were present during the planned protest, and train intercoms and white courtesy telephones remained available for customers seeking assistance or reporting suspicious activity.
BART's primary purpose is to provide, safe, secure, efficient, reliable, and clean transportation services. BART accommodates expressive activities that are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution (expressive activity), and has made available certain areas of its property for expressive activity.
Paid areas of BART stations are reserved for ticketed passengers who are boarding, exiting or waiting for BART cars and trains, or for authorized BART personnel. No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.