Cell phones, public transit agencies, protests, and free speech

Reply Mon 15 Aug, 2011 07:42 pm
What are your thoughts on this?

Do riders of a public transit system, paid for with tax dollars, forfeit their right to free speech once they step on public transit property?

Do public transit entities that provide cell phone service, paid for with public tax dollars and fares, have the right to arbitrarily disable that service at any time in order to curtail demonstrations?

Would your opinion change if there had been an earthquake, fire or medical emergency at a station or on board one of the trains while cell phone service had been shut off?


FCC to Probe BART Decision to Cut Off Cell Service During Last Week's Protest

By: Brian Shields - Mon, 15 Aug 2011 19:51:40 -0800
WASHINGTON D.C. (KRON) -- The Federal Communications Commission says it will investigate BART's decision to shut off cell service during a planned demonstration last week.

An FCC spokesman says such an investigation is held "any time communications services are interrupted." BART officials insist they have the legal and constitutional right to restrict cell phone speech inside the fare gates at any station or on any train.

The FCC says it has already been in touch with BART officials to discuss the probe. Investigators say they will also reach out to protesters, passengers, and free speech activists to get more information "about the important issues those actions raised."

BART spokesman Linton Johnson says the transit agency believes riders don't have the right to use cell phones to exercise free speech once they enter the fare gates and are on the platform or on board a train.


Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area. The Light-rail public transit system connects San Francisco with cities in the East Bay and suburbs in northern San Mateo County. BART operates five lines on 104 miles (167 km) of track with 44 stations in four counties.
In May 2004, BART became the first transit system in the United States to offer cellular telephone communication to passengers of all wireless carriers on its trains underground.

In December 2009, service was expanded to include the Transbay Tube, thus providing continuous cell phone coverage between West Oakland and Balboa Park. Service is planned to be added in downtown Oakland, Berkeley, and the Berkeley Hills Tunnel by the end of the third quarter 2010. Coverage is expected to be added to South San Francisco and San Bruno in 2011. The goal is to provide continuous cell phone and internet service throughout the entire BART system.
The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District is a special governmental agency created by the State of California consisting of Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and the City and County of San Francisco. San Mateo County, which hosts six BART stations, is not part of the BART District. It is governed by an elected Board of Directors with each of the nine directors representing a specific geographic area within the BART district. BART has its own police force.[80]

While the district includes all of the cities and communities in its jurisdiction, some of these cities do not have stations on the BART system. This has caused tensions among property owners in cities like Livermore who pay BART taxes but must travel outside the city to receive BART service.[81] In areas like Fremont, the majority of commuters do not commute in the direction that BART would take them (many Fremonters commute to San Jose, where there is currently no BART service). This would be alleviated with the completion of a BART-to-San Jose extension project and the opening of the Berryessa Station in San Jose.

Updates -- more demonstrations this evening at BART over shooting incident. Cell phone service allowed tonight for a short time.


BART allows cellphone service amid new protests
August 15, 2011 | 6:01 pm

A modest group of protesters converged on a Bay Area Rapid Transit District station in San Francisco to criticize the fatal shooting of a man by police as well as BART's decision to shut off cellphone service last week during an earlier demonstration.

BART workers in bright vests worked to keep passageways clear, and riders were getting on and off trains unobstructed as the protest began.

Cell, email, text and Internet service was fully functional in BART trains and downtown stations as the evening commute began Monday, though there was a heavy police presence.

One 19-year-old man who would give only his last name, Capurro, wore a white T-shirt spray-painted with red splotches. His sign said "Stop Police Brutality" on one side and "Protect Free Speech" on the other, and he turned it depending on his audience.

"It’s frightening whenever the government tries to cut communication, particularly nonviolent communication," said the man, who said he goes to college in Southern California and is working a landscaping job in Pleasanton for the summer. "I am here to say I want to protect free speech and I am disgusted with the violence of the BART police force."

“It’s no longer a BART issue, it’s a nationwide issue and the public has to weigh in on it,” said Bob Jackson, who confirmed that BART has contacted the Federal Communications Commission to explain its rationale. “That’s the difference between our country and other countries. We will have a public dialogue on this and talk about an appropriate use, if it is appropriate.”

The protest came a day after a hackers group attacked BART's website.

On Monday morning, BART was attempting to contact more than 2,400 customers to inform them that their personal information had been obtained and published by a group of hackers.

The security breach was perpetrated by the hacker-activist group Anonymous, which launched cyber-attacks Sunday against BART and the Fullerton Police Department in retaliation for deadly confrontations between police and homeless men.

The cyber-attack against the Fullerton police did not appear to be successful, but officials at the San Francisco-area mass transit authority were forced to shut down MyBART.org, a marketing website designed to encourage riders to use the system for travel to leisure events.

The hacker group posted the names, home and email addresses, and phone numbers of thousands of Bay Area residents, but a BART spokesman said the website held no sensitive financial information.

More background details here:



(08-15) 18:15 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- BART has closed the Civic Center, Powell and Montgomery stations in downtown San Francisco after about 75 protesters gathered on the Civic Center platform to express anger over the transit agency's decision to cut underground cellular phone service for three hours Thursday evening in an effort to quell a protest.

The Muni Metro stations at the same locations were also closed. Both Muni and BART trains are still running through the stations, only allowing passengers to exit the trains but not picking up passengers. In addition, shuttle buses are providing service on the Powell Street portion of the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cable car lines.
Johnson said riders "don't have the right to free speech inside the fare gates." BART's cutoff of cell-phone service Thursday in anticipation of a possible protest, he said, represented a "minor inconvenience" to customers.

Riders' safety, he said, was threatened by protesters upset over a BART police officer's fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man July 3.

"We're in the business of transporting people from point A to point B safely," Johnson said. "We were forced into a gut-wrenching decision on how we were going to stop (the possible Thursday protest), given the propensity of this group to create chaos on the platform."

Activists angered by the police shooting of Charles Blair Hill disrupted service during a protest July 11 that started at Civic Center Station and spread to the 16th Street Mission and Powell Street stations. BART closed all three stations for varying lengths of time and ran trains through them without stopping.

BART shut down cell service Thursday at four downtown San Francisco stations, Johnson said. The agency did not jam cell signals, which is illegal, but shut off the system - which Johnson said is allowable under an agreement with several major phone service providers that pay rent to BART.
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Reply Tue 16 Aug, 2011 09:43 am
I haven't decided, but surely discontinuing a free service doesn't violate any free speech concepts. This would be on the order of requiring a government to provide cell towers to everyone, wouldn't it?
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Reply Tue 16 Aug, 2011 09:46 am
Turn off service on rapid transit cars so that idiots can't talk loudly on their cell phones? Yes, please.
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