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Buzzov*en 08-15-2011 02:44 PM

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Cuts Off Cell Phone Signals to Prevent Protest.
 
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Cuts Off Cell Phone Signals to Prevent Protest. Justified Censorship?

San Francisco cell shutdown spurs debate - USATODAY.com

Quote:

SAN FRANCISCO — An illegal, Orwellian violation of free-speech rights? Or just a smart tactic to protect train passengers from rowdy would-be demonstrators during a busy evening commute?

The question resonated over the weekend in San Francisco and beyond as details emerged of Bay Area Rapid Transit officials' decision to cut off underground cellphone service for a few hours at several stations Thursday. Commuters at stations from downtown to near the city's main airport were affected as BART officials sought to tactically thwart a planned protest over the recent fatal shooting of a 45-year-old man by transit police.

Two days later, the move had civil rights and legal experts questioning the agency's move, and drew backlash from one transit board member who was taken aback by the decision.

"I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this. We really don't have the right to be this type of censor," said Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors. "In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair."

STORY: Hackers protest BART decision to block cell service
Similar questions of censorship have arisen in recent days as Britain's government put the idea of curbing social media services on the table in response to several nights of widespread looting and violence in London and other English cities. Police claim that young criminals used Twitter and Blackberry instant messages to coordinate looting sprees in riots.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government, spy agencies and the communications industry are looking at whether there should be limits on the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or services like BlackBerry Messenger to spread disorder. The suggestions have met with outrage — with some critics comparing Cameron to the despots ousted during the Arab Spring.

In the San Francisco instance, Sweet said BART board members were told by the agency of its decision during the closed portion of its meeting Thursday afternoon, less than three hours before the protest was scheduled to start.

"It was almost like an afterthought," Sweet told The Associated Press. "This is a land of free speech and for us to think we can do that shows we've grown well beyond the business of what we're supposed to be doing and that's providing transportation. Not censorship."

But there are nuances to consider, including under what conditions, if any, an agency like BART can act to deny the public access to a form of communication — and essentially decide that a perceived threat to public safety trumps free speech.

These situations are largely new ones, of course. A couple of decades ago, during the fax-machine and pay-phone era, the notion of people organizing mass gatherings in real time on wireless devices would have been fantasy.

BART Deputy Police Chief Benson Fairow said the issue boiled down to the public's well-being.

"It wasn't a decision made lightly. This wasn't about free speech. It was about safety," Fairow told KTVU-TV on Friday.

BART spokesman Jim Allison maintained that the cellphone disruptions were legal as the agency owns the property and infrastructure. He added while they didn't need the permission of cellphone carriers to temporarily cut service, they notified them as a courtesy.

The decision was made after agency officials saw details about the protest on an organizer's website. He said the agency had extra staff and officers aboard trains during that time for anybody who wanted to report an emergency, as well as courtesy phones on station platforms.

"I think the entire argument is that some people think it created an unsafe situation is faulty logic," Allison said. "BART had operated for 35 years without cellphone service and no one ever suggested back then that a lack of it made it difficult to report emergencies and we had the same infrastructure in place."

But as in London, BART's tactic drew immediate comparisons to authoritarianism, including acts by the former president of Egypt to squelch protests demanding an end to his rule. Authorities there cut Internet and cellphone services in the country for days earlier this year. He left office shortly thereafter.

"BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak," the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on its website. Echoing that comparison, vigorous weekend discussion on Twitter was labeled with the hashtag "muBARTek."

Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in free-speech issues, was equally critical, saying BART clearly violated the rights of demonstrators and other passengers.

"We can arrest and prosecute people for the crimes they commit," he said. "You are not allowed to shut down people's cellphones and prevent them from speaking because you think they might commit a crime in the future."

Michael Risher, the American Civil Liberty Union's Northern California staff attorney, echoed the sentiment in a blog: "The government shouldn't be in the business of cutting off the free flow of information. Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it's halfway around the world or right here in San Francisco."

On Saturday at the station where cell phone service was disrupted, passenger Phil Eager, 44, shared the opinion that BART's approach seemed extreme.

"It struck me as pretty strange and kind of extreme," said Eager, a San Francisco attorney. "It's not a First Amendment debate, but rather a civil liberties issue."

Eager said many of his friends riding BART on Thursday were upset with the agency's actions, some even calling it a "police state."

Mark Malmberg, 58, of Orinda, Calif., believes that BART could've used a different approach instead of shutting down cellphone usage.

"Even though it sounds like they wanted to avoid a mob gathering, you can't stop people from expressing themselves," Malmberg said. "I hope those who protest can do so in a civil manner."

The ACLU already has a scheduled meeting with BART's police chief on Monday about other issues and Thursday's incident will added be to the agenda, spokeswoman Rebecca Farmer said.

But others said that while the phone shutdown was worth examining, it may not have impinged on First Amendment rights. Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, a nonprofit educational organization, said freedom of expression can be limited in very narrow circumstances if there is an immediate threat to public safety.

"An agency like BART has to be held to a very high standard," he said. "First of all, it has to be an immediate threat, not just the mere supposition that there might be one. And I think the response has to be what a court would consider reasonable, so it has to be the minimum amount of restraint on free expression."

He said if BART's actions are challenged, a court may look more favorably on what it did if expression was limited on a narrow basis for a specific area and time frame, instead of "just indiscriminately closing down cellphone service throughout the system or for a broad area."

University of Michigan law professor Len Niehoff, who specializes in First Amendment and media law issues, found the BART actions troublesome for a few reasons.

He said the First Amendment generally doesn't allow the government to restrict free speech because somebody might do something illegal or to prohibit conversations based on their subject matter. He said the BART actions have been portrayed as an effort to prevent a protest that would have violated the law, but there was no guarantee that would have happened.

"What it really did is it prevented people from talking, discussing … and mobilizing in any form, peaceful or unpeaceful, lawful or unlawful," he said. "That is, constitutionally, very problematic."

The government does have the right to break up a demonstration if it forms in an area where protests are prohibited and poses a risk to public safety, Niehoff said. But it should not prohibit free speech to prevent the possibility of a protest happening.

"The idea that we're going to keep people from talking about what they might or might not do, based on the idea that they might all agree to violate the law, is positively Orwellian," he said.
Anonymous recently hacked BART for their actions on Thursday

Anonymous hacks BART, who are the real victims? - Tech Talk - CBS News

Quote:

CBS) - It seems like attacks from the hacking group Anonymous or one of their spinoffs are common these days. Sure, they have a cause and fight for their idea of justice. But what do they gain from jeopardizing the privacy of innocent bystanders?

In the most recent attack of mybart.org, a website that caters to people who are planning trips on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), Anonymous not only took control of the site, but published email and home addresses, as well as phone numbers of the site's registered users.

Let's consider the core of this protest. It was to stand up for the people who lost cell phone service last Thursday on BART, during a protest which never happened. In solidarity with the would-be protesters Anonymous vowed to strike revenge


Instead of taking down BART's website, the hacking group targeted mybart.org and released the information of private citizens that had nothing to do with the shootings or BART's shutdown of cell phone service. That means 58-year-old Aunt Jackie's home address and phone number are now exposed because she wanted to plan a ride to watch a Giant's game last spring.


What's the lesson here? Drive instead of taking mass transit? Isn't that the post 9-11 type fear-mongering we're trying to move past?


This isn't the first time a group of hackers has released confidential information about private citizens to prove a point. The Anonymous spinoff LulzSec released the data of PlayStation Network users to prove that Sony was not secure. In that case, email addresses, passwords, phone numbers, home addresses and birth dates were leaked.

What is Anonymous' end-game with the recent BART leaks? Why not hack into the system to allow free rides for all? (Sorry, BART.) It's time to throw the gauntlet down and challenge Anonymous to keep it real. If you're fighting for the people, don't throw them under the bus to make a point.


The BART protests where to bring attention to the unnecessary violence aimed toward riders, which ultimately lead to the death of an unarmed Oscar Grant in 2009. Officer Johannes Mehserle was charged with involuntary manslaughter and served two years in prison.
What are your thoughts on this?

someonecompletelyrandom 08-15-2011 04:24 PM

I usually agree with Anon, but this attack seemed completely unnecessary.

Mrd00d 08-15-2011 07:01 PM

@Conan I agree and disagree with what the Anonymous group did here. Go after BART? Yes. Release citizen's info? Meh.

Quote:

What is Anonymous' end-game with the recent BART leaks? Why not hack into the system to allow free rides for all? (Sorry, BART.) It's time to throw the gauntlet down and challenge Anonymous to keep it real. If you're fighting for the people, don't throw them under the bus to make a point.
As a former regular BART commuter, I highly condemn BART's actions, and only slightly shake my head at Anon's reaction. What's the risk of being one of thousands of addresses and phone numbers leaked? 'Oh noes! Not my phone number!' 'Oh noes! Now people will come hunting me down to my house because the world knows my name and address!' I dunno...

Quote:

"I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this. We really don't have the right to be this type of censor," said Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors. "In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair."
I am extremely unnerved at the recent suggestion of Britain's David Cameron suggesting that social media and, what, possibly all communication, be disabled in times of unrest. I am bothered by my local commuter train service taking this level of action. Yes they own the cell transmitters, and what not, and yes, they did just fine the whole time that cell phones weren't even a mainstay with the same system, but once you open a venue of public communication, you can't just turn it off and on, or censor people, at your will. I believe they broke some rules in doing what they did.

Quote:

"What it really did is it prevented people from talking, discussing … and mobilizing in any form, peaceful or unpeaceful, lawful or unlawful," he said. "That is, constitutionally, very problematic."
Quote:

"The idea that we're going to keep people from talking about what they might or might not do, based on the idea that they might all agree to violate the law, is positively Orwellian," he said.

Buzzov*en 08-15-2011 08:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mrd00d (Post 1095913)
@Conan I agree and disagree with what the Anonymous group did here. Go after BART? Yes. Release citizen's info? Meh.



As a former regular BART commuter, I highly condemn BART's actions, and only slightly shake my head at Anon's reaction. What's the risk of being one of thousands of addresses and phone numbers leaked? 'Oh noes! Not my phone number!' 'Oh noes! Now people will come hunting me down to my house because the world knows my name and address!' I dunno...



I am extremely unnerved at the recent suggestion of Britain's David Cameron suggesting that social media and, what, possibly all communication, be disabled in times of unrest. I am bothered by my local commuter train service taking this level of action. Yes they own the cell transmitters, and what not, and yes, they did just fine the whole time that cell phones weren't even a mainstay with the same system, but once you open a venue of public communication, you can't just turn it off and on, or censor people, at your will. I believe they broke some rules in doing what they did.

You said almost exactly what I was thinking.

crash_override 08-15-2011 10:53 PM

This is a good old fashioned case of one organization thinking their cause is more important than everything and everyone else. This applies to both BART and Anonymous. In both cases they completely disregarded the implications on all individuals involved. Whether the end justified the means is up for debate, but the fact is, it's a violation of rights. Sure, lazy, impatient Americans probably would rather have their cell phones turned off by big brother than sit in traffic for several hours, but that doesn't make it right. I don't agree with it, and I would say that Anonymous' reaction was more out of principle than actual retaliation.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mrd00d (Post 1095913)
@Conan I agree and disagree with what the Anonymous group did here. Go after BART? Yes. Release citizen's info? Meh.

That's what they get for being PlayStation fanboys. I, personally, think they deserve a lot worse.

Mrd00d 08-16-2011 07:57 AM

A successful, peaceful protest yesterday at 5pm caused BART to close down their four downtown stations for 2 hours, causing commuters (minimal) strife [[They had to go down to the 5th station or cab or carpool across the bridge or wait]]. No arrests. No cellphone disruption either. I would have gone if I hadn't had work. I agree with them here, but this should be the end of the Anonymous v. BART fight... that was their slap on the wrist.

http://images.dailytech.com/nimage/21365_AnonOpBart.png

http://www.sfgate.com/c/pictures/201...0503957242.jpg

^That's the one guy that blocked people from entering the train temporarily, which prompted BART to evacuate the station in case of flare-ups of aggression by commuters.


Quote:

He said cell service was never switched off. "The bottom line with cell service is that it's always in the game plan, but we chose not to utilize that resource tonight," Hartwig said. "Once we read the dispersal notice and they complied, we didn't feel like any other actions were required."
Cell service stays on during BART protest in SF


Peaceful protest successful. Minor inconvenience for folks trying to get to the other side of the bridge, but, generally okay in my book. Even if I had been stuck in SF as they were, I would have thought it was great. How often does this happen? Enjoy the break in the monotony I say.

Also, crash_override:

Quote:

This applies to both BART and Anonymous. In both cases they completely disregarded the implications on all individuals involved. Whether the end justified the means is up for debate
Agreed. I think Anonymous has loose ends to tighten up. I support them in theory, but a) they need to take more consideration for the Joe Everyman out there, too or they'll spurn many who otherwise would be for their causes [I'm not one, even though they ruined my Call of Duty addiction with the PSN attacks :P]] and b) I'm concerned that the group can be compromised and given a bad name by ... anonymous anti-Anonymous folks. As per the latter, I'm concerned that we'll see some rogue member [probably a plant from the government or just citizens that felt slighted by the group] do something in the name of the group that cast them in a bad light. I can see the group getting hijacked, basically. From what I hear, they have a fairly democratic system in place where an issue gets put on the table and any Anonymous members online vote up or down on taking action on it. That's what I hear/know. My concern is... make sure you don't get a bunch of rabble-rousers joining just to bring the org down or give it a bad name. What if a handful of folks start blowing up buildings and just taking credit for it under the Anonymous group name or something. I wish them luck, they need to figure out how they will proceed as a group. I feel like Anonymous could be a permanent facet of ... life from now on, and that may be a good thing or bad thing, depending on if they're compromised. And they could truly be freedom fighters for the people if they found a way to disrupt JUST their targets and not the folks caught in the crossfire.

Buzzov*en 08-16-2011 12:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mrd00d (Post 1096051)
A successful, peaceful protest yesterday at 5pm caused BART to close down their four downtown stations for 2 hours, causing commuters (minimal) strife [[They had to go down to the 5th station or cab or carpool across the bridge or wait]]. No arrests. No cellphone disruption either. I would have gone if I hadn't had work. I agree with them here, but this should be the end of the Anonymous v. BART fight... that was their slap on the wrist.

http://images.dailytech.com/nimage/21365_AnonOpBart.png

http://www.sfgate.com/c/pictures/201...0503957242.jpg

^That's the one guy that blocked people from entering the train temporarily, which prompted BART to evacuate the station in case of flare-ups of aggression by commuters.




Cell service stays on during BART protest in SF


Peaceful protest successful. Minor inconvenience for folks trying to get to the other side of the bridge, but, generally okay in my book. Even if I had been stuck in SF as they were, I would have thought it was great. How often does this happen? Enjoy the break in the monotony I say.

Also, crash_override:



Agreed. I think Anonymous has loose ends to tighten up. I support them in theory, but a) they need to take more consideration for the Joe Everyman out there, too or they'll spurn many who otherwise would be for their causes [I'm not one, even though they ruined my Call of Duty addiction with the PSN attacks :P]] and b) I'm concerned that the group can be compromised and given a bad name by ... anonymous anti-Anonymous folks. As per the latter, I'm concerned that we'll see some rogue member [probably a plant from the government or just citizens that felt slighted by the group] do something in the name of the group that cast them in a bad light. I can see the group getting hijacked, basically. From what I hear, they have a fairly democratic system in place where an issue gets put on the table and any Anonymous members online vote up or down on taking action on it. That's what I hear/know. My concern is... make sure you don't get a bunch of rabble-rousers joining just to bring the org down or give it a bad name. What if a handful of folks start blowing up buildings and just taking credit for it under the Anonymous group name or something. I wish them luck, they need to figure out how they will proceed as a group. I feel like Anonymous could be a permanent facet of ... life from now on, and that may be a good thing or bad thing, depending on if they're compromised. And they could truly be freedom fighters for the people if they found a way to disrupt JUST their targets and not the folks caught in the crossfire.

That's what I was thinking when I heard what they did.
Nice to see they still protested. BART was beyond stupid with shutting down the cell phone service. They do realize there are other ways of orchestrating protest, right? I mean look they still had a protest happen.


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