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TALK BACK: Did BART stifle free speech by shutting off underground wireless?

By California Beat August 12, 2011 14 Comments Print Share

BART officials admitted Friday that they shut off wireless communications for some stations in Downtown San Francisco to keep a planned protest from happening — a move that infuriated civil liberties groups and peeved passengers who likened the maneuver to former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s regime to crush a citizen uprising.

The agency said it did it to keep the peace, and to keep trains moving through the evening commute. “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,” the agency wrote in a public statement.

What do you think? Did the move smack of an unconstitutional move, or was the outage worth it — to bring you back home without delay. Comment below please.

14 Comments »

  • Jafafa Hots said:

    Of course it was an effort to inhibit speech. Anyone who has watched BART operate over the years knows they’re control freaks.

    Last I heard they’re talking about taking over A/C transit. This would be seriously detrimental to east bay residents.
    They want control of all transit in the region.

    To control the funds and to help gather steam towards their goal of a transit monopoly, they must control public speech and their image.

  • RamblingChief said:

    I’ve never seen the “right to bear cell phones” anywhere in the Constitution.

    If the actions stopped rioting and mayhem… I’m all for it. If the actions stopped peaceful public assembly and protest… I’m against it.

    There is a balance… a needed balance in maintaining public safety and 1st Amendment Rights of free speech, assembly, and association.

    Ref:
    U.S. Constitution
    Communications Act of 1934
    Telecom Act of 1996
    Homeland Security Act of 2002

  • Jason said:

    I disagree with those who say it was an unconstitutional move. I’m not a lawyer, but today I was curious so started researching it. The Brandenburg v Ohio case was about the first amendment, and the per curiam decision was that when the speech is directed to incite and will likely incite imminent lawless actions.

    In this case, there was an established pattern of the protests taking place at and around BART stations escalating to include lawlessness (an unlawful assembly is defined by CPC 407: “Whenever two or more persons assemble together to do an unlawful act, or do a lawful act in a violent, boisterous, or tumultuous manner, such assembly is an unlawful assembly.”) Since they had evidence of the directions given to the potential protesters – a signal given via phone/internet, they had a belief that someone’s speech was going to incite imminent lawless action, and took the actions appropriate to protect the public peace.

  • wotten wayne said:

    When an action intended to promote public safety, avert chaos and possible injuries to citizens waiting for BART trains at various platforms during evening commute is likened to vicious attacks by a mid-eastern dictator on thousands of his people to crush free speech, things are truly wacky.

    BART decided to hamper coordination between protest groups gathered at various stations–all bent on disrupting scheduled operations at evening commute–by switching off the underground wireless system it owns. That ploy succeeded at squelching collaboration.

    No one’s right to free speech was impinged. Guess it was hard cheese for the protestors their joy and frivolity of disrupting evening travel plans for hundreds of BART riders was itself unceremoniously severed. 😛

    Bully for BART!

  • david said:

    wotten wayne and jason are two examples of fools who dont understand thatthe the letter of the law is
    not always the same as the spirit of the law. They are the wrong headed types,i am sure for example that ww is tea party kooky, that dont understand that you dont inhibit free speech because of what you BELIEVEmight happen. i am less upset by JAson than by the moronic statement of ww. thank goodness he is in a very small minority. V

  • John Antilety said:

    Since when did believing in the Great Pumpkin become a valid reason to shut down Halloween? Since when did believing that there’s no place like home become reason to start dropping houses on Wiccans? Since when did believing in Santa become reason to install anti-aircraft batteries surrounding the North Pole?

    Human beings “believe” in lots of magical things, but those magical things just never seem to happen. And believing that a group of people will collectively flip their lids and start ripping things apart is known as magical thinking.

    But I’ll tell you one thing? If you believe hard enough, you really can make some things happen, ESPECIALLY when you start BEHAVING BADLY to prevent it from happening. Because bad behavior makes people angry, and more prone to busting heads for bad behavior.

    Dress a cop up in riot gear, cover his face and give him a club, and he will automatically want to start crushing skulls left and right, for little to no reason at all. And he’ll have plenty of people eager to return the favor attacking him in return.

    Dress that exact same cop in a spotless uniform, blue cap, no sunglasses and white gloves, and they’ll be paragons of patience, tolerance and authority. And people will be only too happy to obey any instructions they’re given, and will even help him maintain order.

    Treat people like animals and they’ll attack to kill.

    Treat people like people, and they’ll never give you any trouble.

  • Theodore said:

    Of course they intended to stop free speech. Any means employed to stop citizens from communicating is certainly a violation of free speech, and likely an unconstitutional form of same.

    To those who say “if it stops mayhem it’s okay,” note that all authoritarian regimes label all dissent “mayhem” and thereby justify their actions. But this is America, where our ability to speak our peace and communicate is the bedrock of our liberties. Blocking speech is never justified as a means of blocking what may come after.

    Criminal acts are labeled such for a reason, and will be punished as such, but please do not be lulled into ceding not only legal behavior but your RIGHTS in the name of preventing the other.

    Finally, on a note of personal belief: those who champion the causes of oppression by saying such things as “if it makes us safer, it’s okay to give up our rights…” are doing exactly what our Founding Fathers feared they would when they said things like “[we have] given you a Republic, if you can keep it.” Shame on you for so obsequiously laying down not just your arms but your patriotism as you give away that which generations of Americans fought–and often died–to create and protect.

  • Anonymous said:

    “To those who say “if it stops mayhem it’s okay,” note that all authoritarian regimes label all dissent “mayhem” and thereby justify their actions. But this is America, where our ability to speak our peace and communicate is the bedrock of our liberties. Blocking speech is never justified as a means of blocking what may come after.”

    Damn straight. All that needs to be said to those that say this is:

    “Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

    “I’ve never seen the “right to bear cell phones” anywhere in the Constitution.”

    Well, one of the five men that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution thinks you don’t deserve liberty OR safety.

  • sec said:

    “Those who would give up essential liberty to
    obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither
    liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

    damn right. i want the name of the BART employee who gave the final order to censor american public customer communications.
    dont hide, you ordered it, you thought you were powerful while playing on a safe enviroment where you hide in a building behind a desk. punk!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    put that employee name up all over the internet.

  • J said:

    The BART system purchased and installed those repeaters after 35 years of no service to improve service to their customers and improve ridership. If the benefits of cell phone service are outweighed by the liability to the majority of their customers (i.e. interrupted service), then they have every right to shut it down and remove the system for the next 35 years. There is no Constitutional right for cell phone coverage in a train tunnel.

    The protestors can get off the train and walk up to the street and get full coverage from their carrier of choice.

  • shogunfla said:

    This is the gubermint practicing to shut down communications when the riots come to ameriKA… and they will come.

  • Bacchante said:

    I fully support BART’s actions, and their right to do it again, if necessary.

    I’ve said it before, and will again: When did ‘free speech’ translate into ‘I have a right to use your internet whenever I want to’?

    BART cut off internet to the paid areas ONLY, in their OWN stations, which is NOT part of the government. Publicly-owned areas were entirely unaffected, and frankly, it was the smart thing for BART to do.

    Oh, no, protesters have to use old-style media? To hear the shrill squawks of the outraged, it’s amazing women ever won the vote without Smart Phones to help them along. These so-called ‘protesters’ are clueless how to organize anything, unless they can use their thumbs or a keyboard to do it.

    Think about it….people are whining because BART cut off internet in their own stations. Yet, they’d whine AND sue if someone got hurt while climbing like a (insert insult here) all over the trains, too, or if someone fell onto the third rail — which was what BART was trying to avoid. Not to mention, BART trying not to inconvenience their paying passengers, who just wanted to get somewhere without a pack of bored teenagers blocking the trains while hiding behind the noble label of a ‘protest’.

    These hackers sound like indignant children getting petty revenge on a parent, because they didn’t get their way.

    Besides, way to go….post the personal info of the people you are supposedly ‘protecting’. Hypocrites.

    Anyone who wants to try and manipulate the argument, trying to compare this to Egypt, or whatever….well, to put it politely, get a reality check. When you are allowed to walk out of the BART station and freely use your phones, you’re not in Egypt. For that matter, when you aren’t shot for it, you aren’t in Egypt.

    And when ‘protests’ are permitted…no, encouraged…to cause damage and inconvenience other people to make your point, things have gone way too far. The sense of entitlement is the real outrage here, NOT BART’s actions.

  • Anonymous said:

    “There is no Constitutional right for cell phone coverage in a train tunnel.”

    “I’ve said it before, and will again: When did ‘free speech’ translate into ‘I have a right to use your internet whenever I want to’?”

    You know why you think that? Because you have never actually read the First Amendment. Here, let me help you find the specific sentence:

    “The right to free speech includes other mediums of expression that communicate a message.” – The First Amendment of the United States Constitution

    How does this apply to the Internet/phone? Well… according the dictionary the internet is used to exchange information or data as seen here:

    “(Electronics & Computer Science / Communications & Information) the. (sometimes ital) not cap. the single worldwide computer network that interconnects other computer networks, on which end-user services, such as World Wide Web sites or data archives, are located, enabling data and other information to be exchanged Also called the Net”

    Phones are used primarily for communicating with other people (who would have thought!), as seen here:

    “Also called telephone set an electrical device for transmitting speech, consisting of a microphone and receiver mounted on a handset”

    So why does this matter? Well, let’s recap. The first amendment states that: “The right to free speech includes other mediums of expression that communicate a message.” In case you didn’t get that I’ll make it easier to see: “THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH INCLUDES OTHER MEDIUMS OF EXPRESSION THAT COMMUNICATE A MESSAGE.”

    Are there some instances when the Supreme Court ruled that the government could limit free speech based upon the chance that it could cause violence? Yes, but do not think you’re smart for claiming that a cell phone is not covered under the first amendment.

  • LoveLivingInTheCountry said:

    I’m all for free speech.

    However, the point that most people seem to be missing here is that BART provides the wireless service themselves. If an organization decides to stop providing something that it doesn’t charge people for, it is well within its rights, whatever the reason.

    Saying this is like the Middle East is just crazy. If people wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights, they could still talk, no one was stopping their voices, just stopping the free wireless service. If they truly wanted to talk on their phones, they could go off BART property and get above ground, where they could easily use their phones again.

    BART can’t be FORCED to provide a free service to people who are intending harm to the organization. Come on – if you knew someone was going to egg your house, would you really invite them into your front yard and offer them milk and cookies?