The first American government run transit agency to shut off public cell phone usage and receive world-wide media attention for its actions is set to vote tomorrow on a long term enforcement policy that will govern how it can and cannot control cell and internet data mobile traffic.On August 11 BART shut off mobile phone in a number of Downtown San Francisco terminals after a protest started over the death of a man shot by BART police officers. On October 27th the BART Board of Directors voted to come up with a long term(maft cell phone interruption policy. (video: Microsoft Silverlight required.)
BART states that it’s motivation is “providing safe, efficient and reliable public transit services. BART adds in the draft policy that it is fully committed to its long standing to allowing the exercise of First Amendment rights of expression “in the areas where it can be done safely and without interference of the District’s primary mission.” In accordance with these principles, BART’s document says, “it shall be the policy of the (BART) district that the district may implement a temporary interruption of operation of the System’s Cellular equipment only when it determines that there is strong evidence of imminent unlawful activity that threatens the safety of District passengers, employees and other members of the public, the destruction of District property or the substantial disruption of public transit services.”
I’m not a lawyer and will not attempt to suggest all of the legal areas potentially raised by such a policy if it were adopted. A couple of interesting things include how the language excludes a definition of who will have the authority to make these decisions, that the phrasing concerning what would amount to a disruption may be intentionally vague, and it is curious why BART did not include data networks also accessible from it’s transit system, such as the internet, email, audio and video as well as voice over IP.
Several non-profit media, technology, telecommunications advocacy and public interest groups have joined in filing an Emergency Petition before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue a Declaratory Ruling in this case.
Public Knowledge, Broadband Institute of California, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Media Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Access Project, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative are all joining together suggesting that no local government including San Francisco has the authority to suspend cell phone service and that BART may have violated the Communications Act of 1934 in its actions of August 11th.
Those interested in protecting freedom of speech everywhere will be watching to see how BART acts, and what, if anything the FCC will do in this matter. There may be legislative and court relief sought. This is not happening in Egypt, Iran or Libya. This is San Francisco, California, America.
BART Board Room
Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall
344 20th Street
The meeting is open to the public.