BART and Free Speech in America

As everyone must know by now, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, also known as BART has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of criticism over the last few days.  



The reason is that BART has been blocking cell service in some of its stations in order to “stave off” potential protests because of an earlier shooting by a BART police officer,


The incident, which occurred on July 3rd, involved 45-year-old Charles Blair, who was shot and killed by a BART officer after the homeless man pulled a knife and rushed the officer and his partner.  Organizers and activists had organized a protest in select BART stations to speak out against what they deemed to be another rash and unjustified response by authority to violence in its transportation systems.


So BART decided to block cell service.  Maybe the recent riots in the U.K. scared them into this action.  Who is to say?  But they did feel they had to right to censor cell phone activity.


Now, is this legal?  BART did not necessarily employ blocking methods that are explicitly outlawed by the FCC and, instead, according to a statement issued by the transit authority, simply “asked wireless providers to temporarily interrupt service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.” 


But aren’t we in the United States supposed to hold ourselves to high (or higher) standards?  If so, then this kind of action is really not acceptable.


Whether or not BART is guilty of violating first amendment rights, and is eventually taken to court, remains to be seen.  


Whatever the case, this is a step in the wrong direction for freedom of speech here in the United States.  


By removing the authority and capability of Internet or cellular discourse, no matter how small the incident, the wrong precedent has been set.  


And at BEST this sends mixed signals to other countries and burgeoning digital communities around the world.  It makes us look like hypocrites.  


So if I am riding BART, and have a heart attack, and no one is able to dial 911 for me…who is to blame?