To nip protest in the bud, authorities cut off a public communications system.
When the Mubarak government did that to Egyptâs Internet service last winter, it was met with outrage and underscored that the regime’s days were numbered. When the San Francisco rapid transit system killed its underground cellphone service Thursday night, it also prompted a wave of anger.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit, or Bart, as the system is known, was worried about a group called No Justice No Bart, which is protesting the fatal shooting of a 45-year-old man by Bart police officers last month. A July 11 protest by the group briefly shut the system’s Civic Center station.
Officials were concerned that the protestors âwould use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of Bart police,â the transit agency said Friday afternoon in a statement. Cutting off cellphone service for several hours at selected stations was âone of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform,â Bart said.
Condemnation was swift and widespread. âThere was no demonstrated risk to the public safety at all,â said Kevin Bankston, senior staff lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. âAnd even if there had been, the action was unacceptable from a First Amendment point of view.â
He said, âHaving offered the option of cellphone service, they cannot withdraw it for the specific purpose of cutting off free speech,â he said.
Cellphones users may not have liked being incommunicado, but Bart officials told the SF Appeal, an online paper, that it was well within its rights. After all, since it pays for the cell service underground, it can cut it off. (Cellphone service was available to anyone when the trains came out of tunnels.)
As for the demonstration by No Justice No Bart, for whatever reason, it never happened.