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Cellphone decision incites rage

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AUGUST 24, 2011

At a public hearing Wednesday morning, several members of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors deemed the agency’s decision to cut cellphone service two weeks ago during a protest a disproportionate response.

The meeting, held in Oakland, was intended to discuss BART’s Aug. 11 decision to disrupt cellphone service during a protest. Since then, the group Anonymous has led two demonstrations denouncing BART’s actions, saying that the agency violated the First Amendment.

At the hearing, protesters found a sympathetic ear in BART Director Lynette Sweet, who said she believes the protesters were motivated by the “right reasons.”

“We should have let the BART board put a policy in place, and we should have talked it through,” Sweet said.

Although it had no say in the decision, the board is ultimately held responsible.

Moreover, Sweet said she agreed with recommendations made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which has written to the directors saying phone services should not be interfered with, except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

“Do we want to have a society where the government is in a position to shut down a communications network used by thousands … simply because a few of those people are using it for a particular purpose?” Michael Risher, the ACLU’s staff attorney, said at the hearing.

However, BART board of directors President Bob Franklin said he supported the police chief’s decision for public safety reasons.

“It was a passive way of avoiding confrontation of the protesters — it wasn’t about silencing your voice,” he said.

Anonymous said on its website yesterday that the group will continue to hold protests each Monday until the board meets its demands of firing BART spokesperson Linton Johnson and Police Chief Kenton Rainey.

In an attempt to move forward, BART Director Gail Murray recommended having a plan to address what an appropriate response to a crisis would be. Although BART currently has no such system, a draft is expected next month, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison.

Still, shutting off cellphone service is still an option for future protests, Allison said.

Though the legality of BART’s Aug. 11 actions has come under question by the Federal Communications Commission, no formal investigation has been undertaken.

Contact Weiru Fang at 


AUGUST 24, 2011