Blog of Rights

Free Speech and BART Cell Phone Censorship

By Rekha Arulanantham, ACLU at 3:57pm

For three hours last Thursday, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shut down cell phone service in four stations, prior to a planned political demonstration protesting the fatal shooting of a homeless man by a BART police officer.

But instead of avoiding bad publicity over the shooting death, BART's cell phone censorship has drawn even more attention to the agency and has called into question the legality of its actions.

On Monday, the ACLU of Northern California sent a letter to BART chief of police Kenton Rainey, noting:

BART's actions must be seen in the context of today' s events. All over the world, people are using mobile devices to protest oppressive regimes, and governments are shutting down cell phone towers and the Internet to silence them. BART has never disrupted wireless service before, and chose to take this unprecedented measure for the first time last week in response to a protest of BART police. BART's decision was in effect an effort by a governmental entity to silence its critics.

Catherine Crump of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Program spoke about cell phone shutdown on Democracy Now yesterday, calling BART's actions a "sweeping and overbroad reaction by police."

 

Take action: Tell the FCC to conduct a thorough investigation and insist that government agencies must not censor cell or internet communications, even if it doesn't like the content of those communications.

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