BART Adopts New Cell Phone Blackout Policy

After cutting service earlier, transit agency now says cell service is critical to democracy.

After receiving plenty of negative attention for shutting down cell phone service to hinder protesters earlier this year, BART established a new policy.

The transit agency's board of directors announced its "extraordinary circumstances" blackout policy on Thursday. It says that temporary cell service interruptions are acceptable only when there is "strong evidence of imminent unlawful activity that threatens the safety of District passengers, employees and other members of the public."

BART gave a few examples of "extraordinary circumstances," including using cell phones as bombs or detonators, to facilitate violent criminal activity or to disrupt train service.

The new policy is one of the first in the country and marks a drastic change from BART's actions earlier this year.

On Aug. 11, BART turned off cell phone service at several San Francisco stations to limit communication between people protesting the July 3 shooting death of Charles Hill, a homeless man BART officers said had a knife.

The move became the subject of a major free speech debate and prompted even more protests at BART stations. The hacker group Anonymous even got involved, angering commuters with constant interruptions to train service.

"The intent of this cell phone interruption policy is to balance free speech rights with legitimate public safety concerns,” BART Board President Bob Franklin said.

Read the full policy here (PDF).

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