San Francisco's shutdown of cell phone service on subway is defended by BART

San Francisco's shutdown of cell phone service on subway is defended by BART
In order to prevent a protest in San Francisco aimed at the city's subway system, the city tuned off cell phone service Thursday night on parts of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the move a "Mubarak" after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who ordered cell service in his country's Tahrir Square shut down during peaceful demonstrations earlier this year. The protest planned for the San Francisco subway never took place. Last month, a protest on the subway system  disrupted BART service and authorities did not want a repeat.

Early reports indicated that BART officials went to the carriers first and asked them to shut down service in the subway. But reports that trickled in later from James Allison, deputy chief communications officer for BART, indicated that the Transit System shut down the nodes first and then contacted the carriers to inform them. There is a big difference between the two stories and none of the nation's top four mobile carriers are talking about what happened. The latter has the carriers responding to an order from local government officials while the former would be an action done by the carriers in response to their own thoughts on the matter.

Yesterday, BART officials released a statement that said, "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". So it all comes down to what could be viewed as an attack on free speech. Most of you probably never thought twice about it. You probably bought your cell phone and pay handsomely for service each month from a mobile carrier and the combination presented the illusion that you could get in contact with other people using your phone and your mobile account from any place at any time. But it is all at the mercy of others, some of whom have a heavy hand on the lever and are willing to shut down service in the name of safety. BART defends the move as just one tactic used to "ensure the safety of everyone on the platform". What's next? Will cell service be turned off on the Interstate for safety reasons? Will you be unable to get any bars on your handset while sitting in the theater as service is turned off to protect the ticket buying public?

Certainly the right to have cellular service is not explicitly granted to Americans, but once BART arranged to have service provided for subway riders in what is a notoriously hard place to grab a signal, did they have the right to turn that service off in anticipation of what might come? Is this the modern version of censorship? Is this prior restraint? We would like to hear your view on this subject and you can give us your thoughts by typing in the comment box below.

source: AllThingsD



1. wumberpeb

Posts: 453; Member since: Mar 14, 2011

Here we go...let the debate begin

2. superguy

Posts: 469; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

I agree. This is definitely an attack on free speech. This, at the most, should have only been done with a court order. I'm tired of the "anything for safety" this country has gotten itself into. That's the trump card anytime anyone wants to infringe on a right.

3. Anon Imus unregistered

Just report the news. Nobody comes to this site for political opinion.

4. John unregistered

The author is woefully misinformed about the circumstances of what happened. Here are the facts. 1) This was only done at BART's underground subway stations, where space is tight and the possibility of a person being pushed onto the tracks by a protest (whose sole purpose is to obstruct the doors to the train cars and cause them to be delayed) is high. 2) The carriers do not own any of the cell equipment in these stations. BART purchased and operates the cell repeaters, and they are the only ones that have a say in their operation. 3) Contrary to what the author asserts, cell phone service in a subway is a privilege, not a right. In New York, they do not have service in the subway. Same goes for Chicago. BART provides it as a courtesy. If they feel it is a danger to their riders for this service to be active, they have the right to shut it down. 4) Censorship is not a factor, nor is free speech. Actively attempting to create a dangerous situation is not protected speech, nor would it be censorship for the authorities to make the planning in order for that to happen more difficult. Its akin to yelling 'fire' in a movie theater, which isn't protected speech; in this case they shut down the ability of the person to yell 'fire' before they had the chance. The author's examples (shutting it down on an interstate or movie theater? Really? That's the best you can come up with?) are not only not applicable, they are wholly unrelated since the entity that shut down the service here owned all of the equipment, while the examples they gave all involve the carriers. I find the slant in this article to be disturbing. It is unbelievably biased without providing any factual basis for its assertions. If this is the 'quality' we can expect from this site from now on, its going to be removed from my list of 'go to' sites for phone news.

17. gaby1451

Posts: 119; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

I agree whole-heartedly on your points. I would have raised the question as to whether or not carriers own any of the cell equipment in the stations and if the use of cellular service is a privilege not a right, in which case BART would have solid ground to justify its actions. Could you rephrase or elaborate better on point #4, I don't quite follow it. Also, don't write off PhoneArena for they're stance on this particular piece. THey're are a great source of information in todays cellular world and have a vast encyclopedia of cell phones and reviews which i just love! Gracias!

25. voice of reason unregistered

ohh john, ill start where u ended, take the site off ur list of 'go-to's...i dont think ur traffic will b missed. basically ur 'arguments' and 'facts' are ur own version of what u think happened, even if u live in San Fran your thoughts mean nothing, for you dont work for BART system. lolz. the author simply stated that some of these things COULD BE VIEWED as 'this' or asked if the actions taken went against 'that'. the examples he gave were/are obviously not going to be good enough for people like urself, but considering the topic of discussion--please, u give us a more directly correlated example or two. if the author/his writings/the sites articles are SOOO disturbingly slanted....go away, i reiterate...u won't be missed.

5. tekkie79

Posts: 11; Member since: Dec 21, 2009

John is correct. Cellular service as a whole is NOT a right or entitlement but a privilege which you purchase. If I own a business and choose to NOT allow individuals inside of my walls to use cellular service which can only be provided by equipment I purchase and maintain... that is my choice as a business owner. I even have a right to do this in my home. By doing so is not blocking anyone's right to free speech, if you don't like it... leave. You are NOT required to come into my business nor my home. You choose to. What people don't know is that most cellular service does not actually work deeply indoors. If you have service in the middle of a skyscraper it is typically because someone paid to put a repeater in there so you would have service. If you paid for it, then you have a right to complain. But since you didn't pay for it, and you're getting service basically for free. Be appreciative, not defiant. Remember, BART is a private company not a government agency. It is paid for by people whom use the service. It is not fully subsidized by anyone's taxes as any kind of entitlement. If you don't like what a service provider is doing, don't use it. It is that simple. If you don't like BART, buy a car, pay for the insurance, and parking. Then you can use your phone anytime you want. BART can choose to provide or eliminate service at any time. Granted it would not be good for their business, but it is a freedom they do have.

11. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

I agree with both sides. if you provide the equipment you retain sole influence to turn it off. yet here is the problem. you may own the equipment at your store, but i would bet money that BART gets a cut of the action from the cell suppliers. I doubt they are taking 100% of the costs for tower operation and maintenance themselves. If they ARE NOT getting any money at all from the operation of those towers from the provider, it is up to them. If THEY ARE getting a cut, then they need to run it by the providers first if not get a court order. While I get the whole saftey concerns thing for the ramp and people falling off into the railway (i havent read too deeply into the story, BTW), if someone DID fall into the railway or someone randomly had a heart attack or any other things, they would have no way of contacting help since their phone was off. Turning OFF the phone endangered EVERYONEs life, not just some protesters. If anything happened to anyone during that time, BART would be in for a huge lawsuit. If BART always has cell service there, than there is an expectation from its customers that cell service will work. Also, we have the right to peaceably assemble in any public area. BART can influence whatever area that is "private" for them, but any area the city see's as public BART can not influence. And if their towers are the only coverage for the "public" area than they have to be left on... otherwise that is a total free speech infringement. I think the point of the movie theater and highway ideals is that it starts a slippery slope. "If BART got away with doing this, why cant we" mentality.

6. Giorgio unregistered

Tikkie 79 and John you guys need to take it easy no one should go to your house or business Mr tikkie mickey and john no fun leave this site and run

7. Joe unregistered

You are an idiot Giorgio. Use your welfare check and buy a dictionary and pair of glasses, on me.

8. Forsaken77

Posts: 553; Member since: Jun 09, 2011

I agree with John and tekkie79 in a way. I can completely see your point of view. Now see mine... What I don't see is the relevance of shutting down cell phones on the platform. Is it to stop people from calling for more protesters? If that were the case, they could just go outside and call if it's that important. Being in NY, I can understand if they shut down cell service in anticipation of a bomb attack so the cell phones couldn't set it off. But to shut off service seems like all it's doing is causing an inconvenience for everday riders.

9. Immolate

Posts: 310; Member since: Jun 17, 2011

If indeed BART is a private business, then its patrons vote every day for current management by buying its services, or not. If a private company puts conditions on its services that you don't like, you can vote with your wallet. The cell service is not "free" as some would characterize it. It is a service that was paid for by customer dollars and customers have every right to make their dissatisfaction known if the service is denied. But in the end, though customers pay for a business through their patronage, they don't own it. Privately owned businesses can embrace or ignore the complaints of their patrons as they see fit, and pay the price for those decisions. Now, to the extent that BART is subsidized or provided a defacto monopoly on that kind of service (and it is hard to imagine that a transportation system undermining the entire city's foundation does not enjoy some privileged status), they still must answer to the body politic. That's a thorny situation, I admit. But local governments are known for trading liberties for safety, so I'm not surprised if they would fall on the "no protests in the subway" side of the argument. After all, video of crispy-fried or sliced-and-diced bystanders make for troublesome campaign ads.

10. Stevie B. unregistered

Cell service should be shut down in theatres, so tired of inconsiderate people 15 rows in front of me pulling out a and distracting attention with the light from the screen. If you have something that important going on, STAY HOME!

12. Ahmed111 unregistered

Although I understand that might be a private business. It is still customers who bank the roll the business. So when a business decides to shut down a service they bought with money from their customers, all they are inconveniencing is their customers. Shutting down a cell service does make a protest stop. If it did, it would have helped Mubarak who not only blocked internet for all of Egypt, but also used armed police to shoot at protestors. If people were determined to stage a big protest they could've still pulled it off. In my opinion all that proved was how they did not full thought about the consequences of their actions. Imagine if they actually had a decision over carriers. Would they have shut down service for a whole city because they were afraid of little protest.

13. Ahmed111 unregistered

Joe stop being ignorant. People visit this site from different parts of the world. Your tax dollars don't subsidize everyone one in gods green earth.

20. cnwwyo

Posts: 126; Member since: May 26, 2011

u sure about that?

14. longhairbilly

Posts: 66; Member since: Aug 23, 2010

They should take it one step further. Don't broadcast any sports playoffs games. Remember in Canada when they set fires and looted because of a hockey game? If they blocked TV and radio broadcasts people would not know their team lost and they won't riot. People can get scores online now, so you better block internet access too.


Posts: 34; Member since: Jun 11, 2011

I just wanted to make a small correction to, John (Unregistered), post. I live in Chicago &,"The CTA," does provide cellular service on the subway sections of its elevated train system.

16. corps1089

Posts: 492; Member since: Jan 20, 2010

private property, they had the right to do as they wish; including turning off the equipment they own: regardless of any argument for or against free speech or for or against the right to assembly. the right to cell service is guaranteed in the declaration of independance. while not enumerated in eiher the declaration or the constitution, it is the pursuit of happiness [which would venture everyone in these forums can understand]. Once entered into contract, the carrier is obliged to act in the best interest of the subscriber to provide the contractual service. unless matial law is declared where the rights of the individual are thrown out the window, the govt would have no right to interfere with the contractual obligations of either party.

18. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

eeh.. i cant get behind your statement on cell service. If you can use the "persuit of happiness" for that, then so can NAMBLA. So can anyone for anything. I think its more of a private vs public property and where does free speech fit in issue, than "persuit of happiness". Private property has private rules. Public property has public rules. Just like a job. When you go to work, you give up your right to 100% protected speech. What you say can hurt you and your job. If you wanna go spout whatever u want in a public park, than no one can stop you no matter how vile what you have to say is.

21. cnwwyo

Posts: 126; Member since: May 26, 2011

glad somebody has a light bulb upstairs

19. guest unregistered

In order to prevent a protest in San Francisco aimed at the city's subway system, "the city tuned off cell phone service" (Bay Area Rapid Transit system)

22. Insight unregistered

Well I will have to disagree with some of you. I do believe this is a violation of the freedom of speech. First of all Bart is public transportation and a monopoly also. So there are no other alternatives. Those of you who say if you don't like it get a car and what not. Well that's apples to oranges. Sure there are other forms of transportation but how many of them are public and how many of them are private? Keep in mind that most likely the people taking the trains won't have many other options if any at all. Sure that's not you're concern but it is what it is and we have to deal with whats at hand. Seems like this is also a social economic issues too. Because it seems to some of you think that only those who can afford a different form of transportation should be able to pick and choose when to use your cellphone. "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Benjamin Franklin

23. Insight unregistered

10. Stevie B. (unregistered) posted on 2 days ago, 14:27 Cell service should be shut down in theatres, so tired of inconsiderate people 15 rows in front of me pulling out a and distracting attention with the light from the screen. If you have something that important going on, STAY HOME! Ummm how do you manage to drive? I mean with all the shiny objects that you must surely see while driving must make it a chore (also dangerous?). Perhaps you should just stay home that way you wouldn't be so easily distracted like a 3yr old. I mean really? That is weak sauce. If you had mentioned overly loud talking that prevented you from hearing the movie or blocking your view of the screen. But the light from a tiny screen 15 rows up? I bet you are a pleasure to be around and the life of the party.

24. jpyott

Posts: 2; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

I quickly browsed the previous posts so forgive if someone already mentioned this but... Perhaps this is for SECURITY rather than keeping people from gathering! Would be terrorists have used Cellphones to set off bombs for a long time. Recent news has been aired regarding Bin laden's future plans to attack trains. How devastating would it be to have a subway train blow up under SF Bay? So, without saying what to me is obvious, they say its to stop people from gathering! Personally we all need to be disconnected form time to time just to enjoy life. This will be just one of those times you can plan on being disconnected. Just my 2 cents.

26. mobile search app unregistered

The latter has the carriers responding to an order from local government officials while the former would be an action done by the carriers in response to their own thoughts on the matter.

27. mobile search app unregistered

Public property has public rules. Just like a job. When you go to work, you give up your right to 100% protected speech. What you say can hurt you and your job. If you wanna go spout whatever u want in a public park, than no one can stop you no matter how vile what you have to say is.

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