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BART Pulls the Plug on Wireless Service For Hours

BART Pulls the Plug on Wireless Service For Hours: Backlash hits BART as free speech violation

Cutting the power to several wireless towers, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials (BART) shut down underground service in an attempt to prevent a possible protest from ever occurring.

Days after the fire of the incident on Thursday, August 11, 2011, BART received backlash towards their actions as many feel they crossed the line of freedom of speech and expression. In several San Francisco transit stations, thousands were without any type of communication to the outside world.

"I know I paid my bill last month!..."

“I know I paid my bill last month!…”

The idea of protest had arisen as a result of the shooting-death of Charles Hill, 45, by BART police on July 3, 2011. According to BART officials, Hill was a homeless man that that attacked police in a drunken rage.

BART police say that protestors were organizing the protest around rush hour, just like the protest of July 11, 2011, which led to various arrests and the temporary closing of Civic Center station. Officials acquired this information of the organized protest through an active website.

The outrage of BART police’s actions was covered in a span across the world, even all the way to the Middle East’s Al Jazeera. According to CBS San Francisco, “A number of articles and comments drew comparisons to Egypt’s deposed President Hosni Mubarek, who cut Internet and cellphone services in the country for days during protests earlier this year that ultimately drove him from office.”

Lynette Sweet, a member of BART’s board of directors, said that she was appalled at this incident. “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.” Sweet continued, “In my opinion, we’ve let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that’s not fair.”

Interviewing with the Associated Press, Sweet stated, “It was almost like an afterthought.” Referring to the fact that BART board members found out about this plan of action less than three hours before the protest was scheduled to begin. Sweet continued to say, “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.”

The discussion of the incident was so popular on Twitter that many users took advantage of trending the hashtag “muBARTek.” On August 19, 2011, The San Francisco Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) tweeted, “BART asks riders to make a false choice between communication & safety. We don’t buy it & neither should you. #MuBARTek.”

The EFF released an earlier statement on their website saying, “BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt,” referring to the Mubarek wireless shutdown scandal.

Jim Allison, a spokesman of BART, attempted to defend the agency. According to CBS San Francisco, Allison said that the “cellphone disruptions were legal as the agency owns the property and infrastructure.”

Althea Kirkland, a registered nurse of 20+ years, shared her opinion on the outrage of this issue. She said, “We as people and citizens have a right to know what’s going. It goes against everything that we have been taught about the Constitution.” Kirkland continued on to say, “They are interfering with freedom of speech. They could have monitored the protest or taken other actions like using barricades. You’re jeopardizing the freedom of other people not involved in the protest.”