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BART Disables Cell Service To Disrupt Protests 440

1729 writes "Yesterday, in an effort to disrupt rumored protests at Bay Area Rapid Transit stations, BART officials disabled cell phone and internet access within most of the BART system by shutting down the antennas that enable reception in the underground stations."
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BART Disables Cell Service To Disrupt Protests

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  • Stupid slope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by White Flame ( 1074973 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:04PM (#37075710)

    How long will it be before they just gas a place with knock-out gas in order to "keep the peace"?

    • Re:Stupid slope (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Duradin ( 1261418 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:06PM (#37075742)

      I hear they are coating their slopes with teflon now.

    • ....on the suspicion that an event might take place...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:06PM (#37075746)

    Arab Spring
    English Summer
    American Autumn

  • Solidarity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:09PM (#37075770) Homepage Journal

    When Poland's workers organized to protest the Communist government, one of the government's countermeasures was to disable the phone system.

    My mother remarked at the time how unimaginable it was to live in a place where the phones could stop working because the government wanted them to.

    • Re:Solidarity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pizzach ( 1011925 ) <pizzach&gmail,com> on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:38PM (#37076018) Homepage

      The irony is that the communist government likely in many instances uses the same reasoning to explain to the people their reasons for doing what they do. (Papers please!) When you flip a coin over, it may have a different picture to appease you into thinking it is something different, but in reality it is only the other side of the same thing.

    • What you seeing here is the inevitable end result of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact block falling apart as they were the only thing holding back the Western authoritarians and autocrats from enacting their visions of "Law and Order" (with rich and connected people on top).

      That is because in their panic fear of the worker slaves in the 1930s they painted themselves into a corner by equating the Soviets with the Devil and so anything even remotely resembling the activities of the Politburo (bad, good o

    • Re:Solidarity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lexsird ( 1208192 ) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @12:52AM (#37077094)

      What is interesting is it didn't take our country very long to leap to this kind of tactic. This "protest" didn't even make national radar and they are ready to start pulling stuff like this off on people? Nobody got fired for this, there isn't even an outcry from any authority figure.

      I am afraid the facade of freedom in this country is about to come tumbling down. Authority figures here will NOT be intimidated, and if you make them afraid, they will destroy you. You had better learn to do as your told. This last decade this country has changed for the worse. Its nothing like I grew up in, this is not your parent's America.

      If you think you are going to protest here if they don't want you to, you are insane. Take a look at the G8 riots here. We have state of the art crowd control and the political will to use it. They will use the military on us, they have used the military on us and got away with it. This is a fight that was lost long ago at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. When the authorities were allowed to get away with that, our fate was sealed.

      All the pieces are in place. Follow the propaganda from outfits like Fox News. They have marginalized the "entitlement" people already, they are ready for them to riot so they can dispose of them. They have been tying the London rioters to our "entitlement" people, it falls into their agenda to demonize "the liberals" and this fosters a transition to fascism, as they have someone to "get rid of to make it all better". This is very much history repeating itself. If you don't think it can happen here, you are a fool. No country woke up thinking they could ever slip into this kind of nightmare, but it happens and can happen very fast.

      I have never seen America so polarized, both sides are charged up, it's potentially more charged I feel than the 60s, because this has been a slow cooking pot of trouble. Well, this is America, we don't do things in half measures, when it blows up here, the world will be in awe. What people haven't considered is how much information about making weapons and bombs is on the Internet. You find videos of it all over the Internet. This was rare, hard to find information when I was a kid and we still had a few that played with it.

      Think of what crazy kids here have at their disposal? Forget guns. Guns would be actually more forgiving, considering the lack of armor piercing rounds available. When it gets ratcheted up to improvised bomb launchers that are combination armor piercing and anti personal, our riot cops will get shredded into hamburger in the streets.

      This is why I find this BART action to shutting down the tech to be alarming. If the authorities clamp down on peaceful protest, they just make people in more angry, and increase the chance of escalating this. If people can vent, and feel they are being heard, this goes a LONG ways towards perpetuating a lawful society. If you shut people down, after they have been told all of their lives that they are a free people and have the right to assemble and be heard, you become their enemy. This gives people a reason in it's self to hate you and want you gone. Stack that up on top of any legitimate or perceived to be legitimate grief they have and you start having a recipe for revolt.

  • by bre_dnd ( 686663 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:10PM (#37075784)
    This will *also* disable any early / current news access. The London bus bombings a few years ago were widely reported on by people carrying cellphones w/ photo or video capability. News will still come out, eventually, but if it trickles out *as it happens* both citizens and law enforcement might also get an early heads-up.
  • by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:11PM (#37075798) Homepage

    The subway sections of BART contain special cell antennas to allow service underground -- these were recently added in the past few years.

    Given this, it seems like on the one hand that the service is a privileged. It certainly didn't exist more than 5 years ago, and people got along fine without underground cell service.

    On the other hand, disrupting cell service seems like a violation of free speech. It may not be necessary for free speech, but it's still a method people use to communicate.

    • Previously people didn't count on it being there. It's sort of like how different things changed when pagers were introduced. Suddenly the hospital could get in touch with a doctor even if they weren't in the office or at home.

    • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      There was a time when the only mode of communication was to write a letter and pay a guy with a horse to carry it for you, and people made do. That doesn't mean that all modern communications are a privilege and that the government would be within its rights to shutdown the internet, phone service, radios, organized mail carriers, and the interstate highway system.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by MrEricSir ( 398214 )

        Absolutely. But even at the pace of modern life, it's a bit silly to argue that something only a couple years old could be necessary for free speech. Obviously people got by for (let's say) 10 years without it. Why is it a requirement all of a sudden?

        • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:12PM (#37076242)

          It's not that it's a requirement. If they took it down because it was too expensive, or it needed lengthy repairs, or whatever, I'd be fine with that. But when they cut off a mode of communication specifically to prevent people from communicating, that's when it becomes a problem. I expect that in Syria or Iran, not in the US.

      • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @03:07AM (#37077478)

        I think we are actually getting off topic here a little.

        This has nothing to do with Free Speech. All Free Speech grants us is the right to the *opportunity* to speak freely to whomever can hear us. It says nothing that we shall be provided with communication capabilities to do so. Even, all the way back then, I don't think the Founding Fathers intended that every man shall have free and reasonable access to pen, ink, paper, a horse, and another man to effectively transmit your speech farther than the sound of your voice.

        Aside from the 1st, there is the 14th and various laws designed to prohibit discrimination. So all people shall have equal access and be treated equally under the law.

        Another poster pointed out that disrupting the cellular service in totality endangered the lives of citizens by preventing their access to emergency services during times of crisis or public disasters.

        This does not have anything to do with the government with the big "G". This is not shutting down all communications during elections, or massive unrest and protest against unpopular legislation, etc.

        What happened is that a few people, the supervisors of a transit system, made the decision to deny everyone access to communications (that we take for granted) in an area that until recently, would not be considered suitable for mobile and personal communication devices. It makes no difference if it is TCP/IP, Cellular communication, or pay phones back in the 70's.

        The decision was made for a single reason........ disrupt the ability of organized protest against a transit system by the employees. Affecting their customers, and endangering them, would of required forethought, judgment, and intelligence. Clearly, these supervisors have none of these attributes. Additionally, their behavior clearly indicates a hostile and unreasonable stance on intelligent discourse between two parties to reach a mutually beneficial and accepted agreement.

        As much as I would like to take the opportunity to rant about communications, power, infrastructure, and food production capabilities being too centralized and easily controllable by government, this is not an example of it.

        For the protesters to use Free Speech as a strategy to combat this decision is a mistake, and the appropriate action is to enforce any laws that do exist to protect protests by workers, especially in private business, but also applying to government workers as well.

        This is about unions, organized and collective bargaining rights, etc.

        If these laws don't exist, then the correct action is bring attention that legislation needs to be introduced to protect it.

        Of course, it would also be pretty smart to point out the public endangerment by those officials/supervisors and just get them straight fired and deal with the new people that take over their jobs.

        The 1st Amendment does not give me free Verizon service. Just the right to say what I want on Verizon's network to anyone willing to listen. Verizon also has the right to refuse me service, as long as the grounds are not provably discriminatory.

        Under normal circumstances, any business has the right to terminate communications service at will. Starbucks could disable their WiFi tomorrow, along with McDonald's and we would not be bitching about the 1st and the Man is harshing our mellow.

        Where this is different, is that it caused two situations, both probably prohibited by policy and legislation:

        1) It interfered with a protest by workers against a company. Either through civil court, or existing regulatory bodies, restitution and remediation can be found.
        2) It endangered the public without a reasonable cause. A reasonable cause being, that it needed to be taken offline for 10 minutes for maintenance, or that hardware failure caused it.

        Sorry, we can't rally around this to scream about Free Speech and the government taking away our rights on this one. Wrong situation.

  • Safety Hazard? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by abyssalson ( 2178044 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:13PM (#37075818)
    Blocking calls to 911 and other emergency calls people might have to make seems like it could cause some problems.
  • moe's tavern is safe from prank calls and all it took was cutting the phone lines.

  • by oamasood ( 1754360 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:28PM (#37075946)
    I take the BART every day to work (Fremont to SF). While many stations are underground, when the trains leave the stations they are above-ground and can use normal (non-BART controlled) reception. Most of the time, the BART travels above-ground, not underground. (Also, even with the underground antennas on, the reception is still terrible, so you wouldn't want to make a call anyway.) Also, the wifi sucks, i just use tethering.
    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:36PM (#37076006) Homepage Journal

      Further, the only thing shut off was BART's own equipment. They were transparent enough to say "we shut off our gear rather than let you use it to organize against us", rather than blaming the outage on some sort of convenient hardware failure (or vandalism, which probably would have passed the sniff test under the circumstances). I can't imagine the cell sites outside the paid platform (which were left on) have zero spillover, so those who absolutely needed it could stand at the periphery while waiting for the next train.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:32PM (#37075974)

    If an unfriendly group (let's call it a "terrorist cell") wanted to disrupt phone & internet service for an attack, they just have to let BART know in advance that they're planning a protest? Hmm - not sure if they thought this one through...
    The rest of this story is business as usual. The disruption of emergency service makes this a serious boner on their part.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:34PM (#37075984)
    From the BART website:
    Comments and Complaints - 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, 24/7 voice mail 510 464-7134

    Better yet, here is the contact information for BART's Government & Community Relations folks -- drop them a note and CC your local representative:
    Walter Gonzales, wgonzal@bart.gov, (510) 464-6428
    Representing the following BART stations: North Berkeley, Downtown Berkeley, Ashby, Rockridge, MacArthur, 19th Street, Oakland City Center/12th Street, West Oakland, Lake Merritt, Fruitvale, Coliseum/Oakland Airport, San Leandro, Bay Fair, Castro Valley, Dublin/Pleasanton, Hayward, South Hayward, Union City and Fremont.

    June Garrett, jgarret@bart.gov 510-464-6257
    Representing the following BART stations: Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Concord, North Concord/Martinez, Pittsburg/Bay Point, El Cerrito Plaza, El Cerrito Del Norte and Richmond.

    Molly Burke, mburke@bart.gov 510-464-6172
    Representing the following BART stations: Embarcadero, Montgomery St, Powell St, Civic Center, 16th Street, 24th Street, Glen Park, Balboa Park, Daly City, Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Millbrae.

    Paul Fadelli, Legislative Officer, pfadell@bart.gov 510-464-6159

    Kerry Hamill, Department Manager of Government and Community Relations, khamill@bart.gov 510-464-6153
    Roddrick Lee, Division Manager of Local Government and Community Relations, rlee@bart.gov 510-464-6235

    Lisa Moland, Goverment and Community Relations Specialist, lmoland@bart.gov 510-464-7227

    Mailing Address:
    Bay Area Rapid Transit District
    Government and Community Relations Department
    300 Lakeside Drive, 18th Floor
    Oakland, CA 94612

    Fax Number: 510-464-6146
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the ass clowns"

    Many people trying to get home meanwhile the ass clowns...being ass clowns...

  • Since crime must be prevented, everything should be shut down to prevent all sorts of crime. Never mind about protests. What about real crimes like bank robbery and murder? Phone shouldn't work, guns shouldn't fire, TVs should turn off, and cell phones, FaceBook, Twitter, should all be silenced. Then there's that whole internet thing... Everyone please just stay home and be safe! Think of the children.
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:47PM (#37076076)

    and in vancover they riot over losing a NHL game

  • Statement from BART (Score:5, Informative)

    by drew30319 ( 828970 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:49PM (#37076096) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    "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."

    • Paragraph 1: "We support the First Amendment." (It's scary enough that you even have to say such a thing nowadays)

      Paragraph 2: "No First Amendment activities in the trains, boarding areas, or any other part of our property." (I love the "expressive activities" buzzphrase in this one)
      • by farnsworth ( 558449 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @10:40PM (#37076650)

        Paragraph 2: "No First Amendment activities in the trains, boarding areas, or any other part of our property." (I love the "expressive activities" buzzphrase in this one)

        No, the statement is that the platforms and trains are not public spaces, and if you interfere with the trains, you are de facto trespassing and they will have you arrested. I support PETA doing their thing on the sidewalks and in the parks, but I would take action if they ended up in my living room or if they disabled my vehicle.

        • by ediron2 ( 246908 ) *

          And I'd be there for you, if it were IN your HOUSE.

          Seems to me that the ongoing 'Privatization' of commons spaces is the problem here; if asked, most people would say BART is a public agency, regardless of the nuance of corporate/governmental ownership. Likewise, most people are surprised to learn that stadiums (built with public money, often), malls (which used to get considerable tax breaks), subdivisions, post offices (some of 'em) and so many other places aren't public.

          And don't get me started on 'desi

    • I wonder if BART can be sued on account of shutting down emergency cell phone use? If the antennas are down, how do the passengers call 911? Moreover, in case of imminent riots/protests, the chance of an accident that requires a 911 call increases from normal, so deliberately shutting down the antennas is like deliberately locking the emergency exit doors when a fire in the building has been predicted.
  • I haven't been to that part of the country at all myself; do they have emergency callboxes available? Most other mass transit systems I am familiar with have call boxes available so people without cell phones can still make emergency calls.

    Of course, for some reason we know consider facebook updates to be "emergency" matters. I wouldn't want taxpayer money going to help someone post an up-to-the-minute "ZOMG! UR HAIR IS DA BOMB" on facebook from the subway.
  • Hang on, since they did this by shutting down the antennas, didn't this also include 911 service?

    So, when does the class action lawsuit begin?

    IANAL, just a citizen who has had occasion to use 911 when another citizen was in immediate peril. I'd think the first move would be to get an injunction to prevent this from happening again. And then sue the living crap out of the BART transit authority for emperiling the public.

    Defense: "Your honor, we shut down the cellular system in response to a report that th

  • Totally Illegal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by neffezzle ( 1862994 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @11:27PM (#37076862)
    I seem to remember back before the days of Digital PCS when it really was actual Cellular Phones, a company (I can't remember their name) developed a cellular blocking device that was marketed to movie theaters, supermarkets, and general public areas. The various cellular companies got together and petitioned the FCC for the banning of these devices because they blocked people from making Emergency 911 calls which was considered Illegal. So when did it become ok for BART to disrupt peoples ability to make Emergency 911 Calls?
  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @12:41AM (#37077066)

    OMFG for months we've been hearing western nations cry bloody murder over Middle eastern government oppresive measures against their own telecom infustructures...

    This colminated with the fucking UN declaring Internet access to be a human right.

    Now we have ourselves some relatively minor incidents of civil unrest and the very same (mostly european) countries are doing the very same shit they were previously so adamantly against.

    I hope BART gets sued to hell.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @03:58AM (#37077606) Homepage Journal
    Only works a couple of times before some wiseass starts bringing his own hardware to the party. So far no one seems to have been overly serious about getting voip working over the wlan link on your phone, but a laptop or even a hacked tablet running asterisk and some android phones running sipdroid would get you a long way to where you need to be. Or a cellular version of that.

    Most cell phones these days have wifi, too, and are capable of running their own ad-hoc networks. That's all you need for point to point text.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"