Is mass denial of cell phone use a crime?


BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) decided to cut off all cell phone and WIFI service that it provides to stop a protest that might disrupt service. There is not even a strong claim of illegal activity. There was no court permission obtained to do this act. This intentional massive denial of service would normally be called terrorism,  yet no BART officials have been charged or arrested yet.

Cutting off communications is a very serious act. Once one is in the business of providing a service, especially a communication service, one can’t cut it off. Clearly access to calling 911 should always be maintained. People could die having depended on the 911 service to get help if needed.

According to Cruise, the VP for the Northern California branch of APCO (the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials – International), a professional organization dedicated to the enhancement of public safety communications, “No agency has the ability to decide who can communicate and who can’t. The FCC’s rules are really clear on that. The California Department of Corrections doesn’t have he ability to restrict cell phone signals for prisoners, so I don’t see how BART can for its passengers.”

(SF Appeal Online Newspaper)

Officials of BART claim that they could cut off communications because they provided it. BART also provides air in the underwater tunnel, yet I would not see how they could claim the right to cut that off. The laws of the land must supersede the property rights of BART. The story that BART tells has changed. It now appears that other companies were NOT involved in cutting off communication.

BART relies on public funds and used public powers to gain land, yet it is acting as if it is totally a private entity.

According to BART, though, once you’re through the fare gates, free speech isn’t so free. In their statement, they say that “paid areas of BART stations are reserved for ticketed passengers who are boarding, exiting or waiting for BART cars and trains, or for authorized BART personnel. No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.”

(SF Appeal Online Newspaper)

Using this theory, BART could decide to cut off service to people based on color or neighborhood or ethnicity.

Even worse is the punishment-before-crime nature of this activity. There is not even a strong claim of illegal activity. This act was done to stop a protest that might disrupt service. Obviously, many people were affected who were not involved in any way. No evidence was provided and no court was used to make this decision. Everyday, protests are planned. It is a part of our democracy. Imagine if we cut off communication services at every planned protest. Communications would then stop at most federal agencies and all political conventions.

Moreover, if this same cut-off of service had been done by a foreign agency, we would have called it terrorism and prosecuted it that way. This act was NOT done by due process of law. Should an entity inside the US get to commit the same acts of terrorism and get away with it?

In other countries, we have the government shutting down communications. We condemn those governments. Here it just takes one person in an transit agency. If the people involved are not charged and prosecuted, then there is free reign for this to happen again.