A mass demonstration is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 15, by people angered at San Francisco public transportation’s decision to shut down all mobile communications as a tactic for quelling a previously planned protest.
The situation began Aug. 11, when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) switched off the services provided by five telecommunication companies for underground and station service. It had learned of a Thursday demonstration to protest a July 3 fatal shooting by BART police, and the transportation authority “temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform,” an official statement read.
Critics of the shutdown were quick to share their opinion that it was an affront to free speech. Jillian York, director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tweeted, “So, what BART actually did was ‘pull an Egypt’ – they literally asked cell carriers to shut down.” A topic hashtag of #MuBARTek began trending on Aug. 11. Others noticed this was the same day that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron suggested similar shutdowns might be a solution to the riots in London and elsewhere in England.
Calif. State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) issued a strong statement Aug. 12 agreeing with the critics. “I am shocked that BART thinks they can use authoritarian control tactics,” Yee said. “BART’s decision was not only a gross violation of free speech rights; it was irresponsible and compromised public safety.”
A blog post on the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s website read, “Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it’s halfway around the world or right here at home.”
Monday’s demonstration is set to begin at 5 p.m. local time. The Twitter hashtag #OpBART is being used to coordinate the event, at which the hacker group Anonymous has promised to attend. Anonymous is leading calls for the protest to be peaceful, and that those attending wear red shirts and bring video cameras. For those not attending, the group asks for a show of solidarity, “by using black fax, email bombs, and phone calls to the BART Board of Directors. BART decided to cut off your communications and now we will flood theirs.”
Anonymous is also threatening to use its members’ hacking skills. “In the Bay Area, we’ve seen people gagged, and once more, Anonymous will attempt to show those engaging in the censorship what it feels like to be silenced,” it said in a statement.
Jim Allison, a BART spokesman, told members of the media that officials are aware of the planned protest and are making appropriate plans. He declined to say whether or not those plans included shutting down mobile communications.
Anonymous’ flyer/poster for the protest – http://tumblr.com/xjh42tga3v
CNET post – http://tinyurl.com/3ntf5bn
Associated Press – http://tinyurl.com/3fnz3ey
Bay Citizen post – http://tinyurl.com/3sem9o9
Photo of Jan. 1 protest in Oakland, Calif. by flickr user JacobRuff, used under Creative Commons license