Photo by Curtis Fry
Two weeks ago, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authorities shut down mobile phone service in several underground stations in an effort to impede a planned protest of a recent shooting by BART police. The move backfired, leading to more protests, in response to which BART closed several stations during rush hour. Nevertheless, officials insisted that they had acted within their authority, and they reserved the option of shutting down phone and Internet service again. The BART board meets tomorrow (Wednesday) to consider the matter.
The BART action sent a terrible signal to rest of the world, inviting comparisons to former Egyptian President Mubarak’s order cutting off Internet access to squelch protests challenging his government. With Internet freedoms threatened around the world, government officials in the U.S. should not be shutting down communications networks, even temporarily and even in response to legitimate concerns about public safety in the face of unruly demonstrations.
Closer to home, the justifications offered by BART officials displayed confusion about the mandates of the First Amendment and completely missed the Constitutional significance of the mobile phone network and the voice and Internet communications it supports.
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