BART's Wireless Block Draws Condemnation, FCC Scrutiny

A decision by San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit to cut off wireless service in some commuter stations last week in hopes of stemming protests related to a police shooting isn't sitting well with many observers.

BART attempted to justify the move as necessary to "ensure the safety of everyone on the platform." The organization said in a statement that a "civil disturbance during commute times at busy downtown San Francisco stations could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators."

But observers see BART's wireless-block as the same type of repressive activity that draws condemnation when it occurs abroad. On Twitter, users are referring to an incident by the hastag "MuBARTak," referring to former Egyptian president's Hosni Mubarak's decision this spring ordering cell service blocked in Tahrir Square. Law professor Marvin Ammori makes the point that the U.S. appears hypocritical when it criticizes other governments for cutting off the means of communications only to have authorities here do the same thing. "We are the 'land of the free' and other nations will aim lower than our bar; so we should set the international bar high. What we need is a prophylactic approach -- an approach that binds us to the right principle in advance, before the crisis mentality kicks in," he writes.

In addition to the political ramifications, BART's action might have legal consequences. The Federal Communications Commission is probing whether BART acted lawfully, the National Journal reports. Agency spokesman Neil Grace reportedly said today that the agency is collecting information and will take steps to "hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised."

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