BART Shuts Down Stations Instead of Blocking Cell Phones
Agency uses a disruptive but less controversial technique to handle protests
During Monday's protest of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the system's police shut down four stations along Market Street in downtown San Francisco, stranding riders trying to get home and tying up street traffic as they walked from station to station trying to get into the system. But the transit agency didn't disrupt cell service as it did last week, which sparked the wrath of activists online and then in person. The station shutdown was arguably much more disruptive than the cell phone blockage, though it's a tactic BART has used to battle protesters before with far less controversy than shutting down cell phone service, which has raised free speech concerns and brought on an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission.
The protest followed a Sunday hack by Anonymous that shut down a BART website (the site, MyBART.com, is still down), and the high-tech proclivities kept up through the on-the-ground demonstration the group organized. Anonymous live-streamed the action, and kept Twitter updates coming via its news account. It even advised protesters where to buy the ubiquitous Guy Fawkes masks that the group sports during demonstrations.
BART police said the station closures were a safety measure to prevent dangerously overcrowded platforms. The Los Angeles Times spoke to BART Deputy Police Chief Dan Hartwig: "Once the platform becomes unsafe, we can't jeopardize the safety of the patrons and employees," he said. "We are not opposed to them expressing their 1st Amendment rights, but it has to be safe." But technology expert and information activist Jacob Appelbaum said that was misleading. He tweeted on Tuesday: "BART is trying to turn riders against those asking for accountability. This is a simple tactic to mislead people into infighting."
Meanwhile, the transit agency faces a legal challenge on top of Monday's physical one. The Federal Communications Commission said it would look into the agency's controversial blockage of cell phone service to disrupt Aug. 11 protests over a BART police officer's shooting of a homeless man last month. "As a policy matter, who can control the operation or shutdown of wireless networks that have become critical to everyone is going to be of substantial interest to regulators," Yaron Dori, president of the Federal Communications Bar Association, told The Bay Citizen news site. BART board president Bob Franklin told the site he wanted a dialogue with the FCC. "BART initiated this action, and it’s an unprecedented action in the US," he said. "When personal safety collides with first amendment rights that’s the national debate."