BART: Supreme Court on our side over cell phones

A demonstration disrupted BART service during the evening commute on Aug. 15, 2011.
August 16, 2011 8:45:40 PM PDT
BART is defending itself one day after coping with a large protest that shut down four stations.

BART says the law is on its side when it comes to turning off cell phone service on train platforms like it did last week to deter protesters.

Monday's protests were a cat-and-mouse game of roaming protesters and BART police officers, except this time, BART did not turn off cell phone service.

"If we get people there safely, and a little late, but they're safe, we'd rather they be late and safe," said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson

"That's like preventing a fire from happening," said BART passenger Harmon Bawa when asked about how BART should handle the protests. "There's really no way to deal with it."

Monday, the demonstration ended with the transit agency shutting down all four downtown San Francisco stations: Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero. Demonstrators were protesting against BART's decision to shut down the cell phone network last Thursday.

This time around, BART did not shut off cell phone service, but does say the law is on its side when it comes to doing so. Johnson said a 1969 Supreme Court decision known as Brandonberg v. Hayes allowed BART the legal authority to shut down the cell phone network.

"There was a Supreme Court ruling that allowed, under very narrow circumstances -- you have to meet a lot of tests in order to put public safety ahead of free speech, but there are exceptions," Johnson said.

Constitutional law professor Rory Little said, however, there are other court cases which make it difficult to restrict the freedom of speech.

"Guess what the Framers didn't think about? Cell phone service," said Little. "When they wrote the First Amendment, they thought about printing presses."

Chatter on Twitter and other social media websites indicated a makeshift, grassroots protest was being considered for Tuesday evening, but that protest failed to happen.


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