Welcome to the brave new world:
BART officials acknowledged this afternoon that they shut down cell phone and wireless data service in its downtown San Francisco stations to disrupt a planned protest. Their announcement sparked denunciations from civil libertarians and the apparent threat of a cyber-attack on the BART website.
A statement posted on the transit agency’s website said the communications blackout was ordered in the interest of public safety:
“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,” the statement reads.
The most depressing thing about that link? Look at how many commenters (in San Francisco! Reputed Commie capital of the U.S.!) think this idea is just peachy. Guess it’s more important to not be inconvenienced over your evening plans than surrender control to a public agency over when and where citizens are allowed to communicate.
And according to the Christian Science Monitor, this is probably unprecedented (in America, at least. Rumor has it it’s all the rage in Iran and Syria):
This may be the first time a government agency in the United States has ever deliberately disrupted cellphone service to defang planned protests, criminologist Casey Jordan told CNN. “I haven’t been able to find another incident in which this has happened,” she told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux Friday.
Iran used cell-phone-jamming technology to hobble protests in 2009, and Britain has considered doing so to thwart the social-media-driven riots that dogged London and other locales this week.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) forbids jamming cellphones, but BART’s move had a different legal context. Because the transit system contracts with five large telecommunications firms to provide underground and station service, BART did not use jamming technology, it simply turned off a service.
Ah, well. All’s good. BART didn’t jam, you see, which would be illegal. They just “simply turned off a service.”
So no worries! And have a great weekend!
Update: Not so fast on the great weekend. Looks more and more like the move is illegal, according to an update at SFGate:
(UPDATE: Only Federal agencies can block cell phone use and with that, only under specific circumstances. BART is not a Federal agency.)
According to a citation issued January 26, 2011, by the Federal Communications Commission against Comtrex Communications for illegal cell phone jamming, Section 333 of the Communications Act of 1934 states, “[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government.” and Section 302(b) of the Communications Act provides that “[n]o person shall manufacture, import, sell, offer for sale, or ship devices or home electronic equipment and systems, or use devices, which fail to comply with regulations promulgated pursuant to this section.”
There’s no evidence provided by any BART representative that such legal issues were considered before initiating the cell phone blocking action – BART seems to have just plain went ahead and done it.