FCC Investigates BART Cellphone Crackdown

BART's cutting of cellphone service has sent the transit system from frying pan to fire as the FCC investigates and the world watches.

Posted: 08/16/2011 01:59 PM EDT

(Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESSAP)


Over the past few days, San Francisco’s troubled transit line has attempted to control the public outcry stemming from the July shooting death of a homeless man by transit police. And now, because of those actions, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is facing an investigation by the FCC.


Last week, in an effort to thwart a planned protest calling for the removal of the officers responsible for the July 3 shooting. BART shut down mobile-phone base stations, cutting riders’ cellphone service. BART also closed downtown stations to prevent protestors from reaching their destinations.


"Any time communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation,” FCC spokesman Neil Grace told CNN. We "will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks."


The controversy has also caught the attention of those miles away from the Bay who see striking similarities to the repressive crackdowns of anti-government protests in the Middle East.


"What they did was actually exactly like Jan. 25," said Egyptian blogger Mostafa Hussein referring to the date when the Egyptian government shut down cellphone towers and cut Internet access across the country in an effort to keep thousands of anti-government protestors from gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

"On the night of the protests, around 7 or 8 p.m., this happened, and they also blocked twitter. But three days later they switched off mobile systems in [the] entire country. Definitely there's a difference because the Bay Area Rapid Transit doesn't control communications for the whole city...but it's a slippery slope," Hussein said.


Passenger reports from the July 3 shooting incident say that the man in question was clearly drunk but was not acting in a threatening manner when he was shot, despite BART police reports that the man wielded a knife and lunged at the officer.


BART came under national scrutiny and sparked city-wide protests last year when a white transit officer fatally shot 22-year-old African-American Oscar Grant. Grant’s shooting was captured on video by other passengers and showed Grant being shot in the back of the head while lying on the ground, unarmed and in full cooperation with the officer’s direction. The July 3 shooting marks the third killing by BART police in three years.




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