BART Defends Cell Phone Decision

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    flickr.com/juniorvelo
    It was a rough ride home Monday for commuters who use BART in San Francisco.

    With the threat of another disruptive protest looming, BART  officials issued a letter to BART customers Saturday defending BART's  decision to interrupt cellphone service to prevent a protest on Aug. 11, and  announcing that the issue would be discussed at a board meeting Wednesday.

        Interim General Manager Sherwood Wakeman and board of directors  President Bob Franklin signed the letter, which gave BART customers a broad  overview of this summer's events, which began with the BART police shooting  of Charles Hill on July 3.     A week later, on July 11, a group gathered on the platform at  Civic Center station, where Hill was shot, and disrupted service by blocking  train doors, climbing on top of trains, and moving from station to station to  stop trains from leaving.
        In response, BART closed three San Francisco BART stations and  commuters were forced to make other travel arrangements. BART's letter said  that 96 trains were disrupted at the height of rush hour.
        The protests were organized by a group called "No Justice, No  BART" which formed after the Jan.1, 2009 BART police shooting of Oscar Grant  in Oakland.
        In August, BART announced on its website that it had obtained  information that another protest was being planned for Civic Center station  on Aug. 11. According to Saturday's letter, the demonstration was being  planned as a surprise, with different color-coded groups coordinating  activities to disrupt the trains via cellphones.
        "The overall information about the planned protest led BART to  conclude that the planned action constituted a serious and imminent threat to  the safety of BART passengers and personnel and the safe operation of the  BART system, at a level that could far exceed the protest of July 11," the  letter said.
        To prevent protesters from coordinating, BART suspended cellphone  service in BART stations and tunnels beginning at 4 p.m. Aug. 11. The  protests never materialized, leading some BART officials to declare the  precaution was successful.
        But the move set off a flurry of criticism and a fresh round of  protests. Public statements from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the  American Civil Liberties Union compared BART's strategy to those employed by  repressive regimes in Egypt and Libya, where cellphone and Internet  disruption is a standard practice in abating protests.
        In addition, the loosely organized hacker protest group  "Anonymous" reacted strongly to BART's strategy, calling for a new protest  and hacking the BART website myBART.org, releasing some customers' personal  information to the Internet.
        The Anonymous-organized protest on Aug. 15 again met on the Civic  Center platform and prevented trains from leaving the station, which led to  the closure of all four downtown San Francisco BART stations.
        The same day, the Northern California ACLU released another  statement, declaring BART's decision to shut down cellphone service  unconstitutional, and the Federal Communications Commission released a  statement saying it was gathering information about the unusual strategy to  determine if any regulations had been broken.
        Within BART itself there has been controversy about whether  disrupting cellphone service was an appropriate measure. Board member Lynette  Sweet said on Tuesday that she thinks the board should have been consulted  before such a decision was reached, and said Wakeman himself lacks  accountability.
        "What we ended up doing is giving these same people another reason  to come back and protest us," Sweet said.
        On Wednesday, another BART website was hacked and personal  information of BART police officers was released to the Internet. While  Anonymous lacks an official head or spokesperson, Twitter accounts and other  websites speaking for the group have denied responsibility for the latest  leak, and some have condemned it.
        Still, the group functions without any formal registration or  membership, so anyone who chooses to call themselves Anonymous can do so. One  Twitter account clarified this aspect of the group by saying, "Anonymous is  not unanimous."
        Anonymous has called for a second protest on Monday at 5 p.m., and  as of 11 a.m. today, 215 people said they would be attending on a Facebook  page announcing the action, even more than said they would be attending last  week's protest.
        The page said the protest would again meet on the platform at the  Civic Center BART station.
        BART officials have said that protests are permitted outside the  faregates in BART stations, but that any protest in paid areas would be  illegal. While BART has not shut down cell service since Aug. 11, BART  officials have maintained that the move was legal and has not ruled out that  they would again take that step during future protests.
        The BART board of directors is scheduled to discuss the issue  during a special meeting on Wednesday at BART's headquarters in Oakland, and  has invited any concerned members of the public to attend.