BART holds meeting on cellphone policy

Protesters yell in front of a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer at the Civic Center train station in San Francisco, Monday, Aug. 22, 2011. The small demonstration involving about two dozen protesters prompted BART officials to close the Civic Center station at 5:30 p.m. Demonstrators and computer hackers have been targeting BART for shutting down wireless service at Civic Center on Aug, 11 to quell a brewing protest
August 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The BART Board of Directors were expecting an overflow crowd at a hearing Wednesday on the controversial shutdown of cellphone service at BART stations. They didn't get a crowd, but they did get a message.

The controversy surrounding BART has involved a lot of shouting. Wednesday, for the first time, people came together to talk. The BART Board of Directors asked the public to come and give opinions before they draft policy they believe will have an impact for the entire country.

"I've gotten probably 10,000 emails, just from across the nation, from people that aren't familiar with the BART line, and from never turn off free speech to thank you for protecting us and everything in between," BART Board President Bob Franklin said.

BART police officers say they had intelligence that a protest group would be encouraging and inciting illegal behavior on BART platforms. With 500 people entering the downtown San Francisco stations every minute they decided to shut down cellphone service at the stations in the name of the safety, hoping to keep protestors from organizing.

An attorney from the ACLU was one of 18 speakers who signed up Wednesday to give an opinion about this tactic.

"I think we also need to ask ourselves, 'Do we really want a society where government is in a position to shut down a communications network used by thousands upon thousands of people simply because a few of those people are using it for a particular purpose?'" Michael Rischer said.

At least one board member said cutting off cell service shouldn't happen again, except in the most extreme circumstances.

"It really is frustrating to know that I as a board member will be held accountable for a staff decision and it's not one that should ever be made that way again," Lynette Sweet said.

Some questioned whether the move violated free of speech, while other opponents raised the issue of safety.

"God forbid, if there was an earthquake Monday evening, you would have had some serious hell to pay," an activist named Krystof said.

The demonstrators say even if the BART board adopts a new cellphone policy, the protests will continue.

"Right now, you want these protests to end and you want to go back to business as usual but there is no going back, not if business as usual includes an out of control police department," Krystof said.

But safety was also the argument for shutting off service.

Supporters also questioned the First Amendment argument.

"I am a supporter of First Amendment rights but I am here to say in my opinion the claim that there is any First Amendment claim at all is specious and it trivializes our First Amendment freedoms," Gary H. said.

The board took no action. They will draft a new cellphone policy and hold more hearings in the next 2-4 weeks.


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