On Thursday, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) interrupted cell phone service on its platforms to prevent a possible protest.
Last month, hundreds of people turned out at BART stations to protest the July 3 killing of a man during a confrontation with transit police. The demonstrations turned violent.
In a statement released Friday, the government-run transit company said it allowed expressive activities, protected by the First Amendment in its public areas. But in the areas accessible to paid ticket passengers, it interrupted the phone to ensure safety for its customers and employees. “BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform,” the statement reads.
(Read the full statement below.)
No protest occurred on Thursday night, but cell phone service was still interrupted.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that BART did not use jamming technology, “it simply turned off a service,” as it has contracts with five telecommunication companies to provide underground and station service. The Federal Communications Commission forbids jamming cellphones, not turning off a service.
But some are saying that BART’s actions were an infringement on the First Amendment. Jillian C. York, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote on Twitter, “So, what BART actually did was ‘pull an Egypt’ — they literally asked cell carriers to shut down.” A hashtag started on Twitter mashing up the ousted Egyptian leader’s name with the transit system: #MuBARTek.
Full statement from BART
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.