One of the ways governments in the Middle East have used to try to break up the protests has been put to use right here in the US. When San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) heard rumors that people were planning to protest a BART officer’s shooting of a local resident last month, they put into place several tactics including contacting cell phone providers having them shut down the towers serving 4 BART stations for 3 hours.
The protests never materialized calling into question whether they ever were going to happen in the first place but the approach used by BART and the fact that other governments including England are now looking into employing similar procedures has some wondering about the government infringing on the rights of its citizens.
BART has been the target of outrage since it successfully jammed cell signals at its stations. Hackers have already broadcasted their ire, with a digital flyer entitled “muBARTek,” a reference to the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s own efforts to jam cell service in his country during mounting protests.
In response to the allegations that BART is infringing on first amendment rights to free speech, the transit service said, “BART accommodates expressive activities that are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution (expressive activity), and has made available certain areas of its property for expressive activity….”
So what do you think, did BART go to far? Does the government have the right to purposefully control access to technology to stop peaceful protests?
And maybe more importantly, what is happening to folks in the Bay Area if they can’t organize and carry out a decent protest without having cell phone coverage? I seem to remember that Northern Californian’s used to be quite good at that whole protest thing long before anyone had ever heard of a cell phone.