Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bay Area Rapid Transit Accused of Censorship for Blocking Wireless Services to Foil Protests

Democracy Now - The War and Peace Report

The operators of the San Francisco area subway system are facing intense criticism for temporarily cutting off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform by a BART police officer in July. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer.

According to media reports, BART may be the first government agency in the United States to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration. Some have compared the move to former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s blockage of internet access across Egypt in January during the popular uprising against his rule. The Federal Communications Commission says it will investigate BART’s decision.

The operators of the San Francisco subway system are facing intense criticism following their decision last week to temporarily cut off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday night, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations. The decision was made in an effort to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform in July by a BART police officer. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer. According to media reports, BART may be the first U.S. government agency to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration.

Free speech advocates across the country have condemned the move. Some have compared it to the decision by former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak who shut down internet access across Egypt in January in an attempt to stifle the growing protest movement. On Twitter, critics of BART’s action took to using the hashtag "Mu-BART-ek."

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced it will investigate BART’s decision. FCC spokesperson Neil Grace said, quote, "We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks."



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