Groups ask FCC to stop local officials from disrupting mobile service

Several organizations have asked the Federal Communications Commission to ban local governments from cutting off people from their cellular networks at the whim of police officials, reports Government Technology.

The request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology in Government and other groups is a product of the drama in San Francisco that developed when Bay Area Rapid Transit officials decided Aug. 11 to shut off access to mobile service providers at four BART stations during a scheduled protest, Gov Tech writes. First Amendment advocates and hacktivists — including some members of the Anonymous clan, though not all — reproached BART officials for the heavy-handed move to stifle a public demonstration.

FCC is already investigating the matter and plans to rule on the legality of the move, Gov Tech reports. However, the groups are calling for more urgent action from the federal agency before other local governments follow in BART’s footsteps to squash communications when convenient.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Sep 1, 2011

Just because a company chooses to provide services or goods for free does not impose a responsility to do so. I suspect that BART owned and operated the equipment providing cell service. A local beer distributor here occasionally gives away free hot dogs. They don't have any responsibility to continue. Neither does BART.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011 earth

I am disturbed by an increasing trend of commenters on government decisions to demonstrate an attitude of “rex non protest peccare” toward the public criticism of government actions and decisions. This is prima facie the antithesis of democracy and modus operandi of tyranny. It has no place within a democratic society and particularly within the chambers of government. Those that engage in it have clearly forgotten their high school civics instruction and should go back and read the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Note the context of the words “it is their duty” and back that up a bit. Those that don’t call their government to account have failed in their duty to keep it from getting to that point no mater what experience has "shewn" that mankind are disposed to suffer.

To make a decision on the basis of rex non protest peccare is to endanger both the public and that government they institute among themselves.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011 earth

Continuing on prior comment. Unless and until the risk to passengers is increased by violence in the protests then the risk of other events should not be increased by actions of the transit authority. This means that shutting down communications should not occur unless it can be shown that doing so would reduce the risk to passengers. This does not occur until violence starts. At that point it is questionable whether shutting down communications would abate the violence more than it increases the risk of delayed emergency response to the victims of that violence. I have to ask whether the transit authorities only intended to prevent a protest and whether this was actually based on the safety of the passengers.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011 earth

One might assume this was a direct attack on the constitutional right of the people to peacefully assemble as the stated purpose of the shutdown in communications was to disrupt the assemblage of protesters. Whether the modifier “peacefully” applies may be questionable in any protest but this leads directly to the question of public vs. governmental responsibility. Can the government prejudge the people’s intent and counter that.

An alternative viewpoint is that the safety of non-protestors was unduly endangered by the shutdown of communication, particularly the access to emergency services the communication network provides. If the protest had occurred and been other than peaceful then the public in general would have been endangered by the action of the police. Further, any emergency that occurred during the blackout unrelated to the planed protest, either within the confines of the transit system or outside the transit system but related to a user of the transit system, a woman giving birth at home that is married to a transit rider for instance, would have become more risky because of the action of unregulated governmental decisions. The decision maker should be questioned whether this later was taken into account during the deliberations and if so what risk abatement process were enacted.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011

My, my.. Talk about yellow journalism! Perhaps it would be a greater service to the gentle reader to point out the issues about BART providing the means for cell service in the subterranean stations and the tube? Is BART to be expected to provide the medium for flashmob-like attacks on not only their transportation network, but the public safety in general? And NO, I think the Patriot Act was UN-PATRIOTIC.

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