San Francisco protests halted by cell phone service shut down

As a wave of protests big and small sweeps over the entire globe, presidents, prime ministers and even companies are determined to not allow protesters to communicate and organize effectively by using modern technology.

We are all familiar with the fact that the former Egyptian president ordered the cell phone service to be shut down during the peaceful protests that resulted in the end of his 30-year-long presidency. We have also heard that British Prime Minister David Cameron is considering shutting down or censoring mobile communication and social networks in the UK in order to prevent the rioters to coordinate their actions.

But, you might be surprised to know that a protest organized in San Francisco and planned for Thursday was foiled by the disruption of cell phone service by the operators of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART).

The protest was intended to be a continuation of a previous one, held following the death of a man shot by the BART police. The EFF claims that to prevent this second one from happening, BART operators have shut down the antennas that enable people to talk on the cellphone in underground stations.

The EFF and other digital rights advocacy groups have pointed out that this act violated the protesters’ right to free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment, and have compared it to the previously mentioned Egyptian situation. BART officials have responded by saying that they have nothing against free speech, but that the riders’ safety was their main concern.

In the end, the situation got the attention of Anonymous. “People of San Francisco, join us Monday, August 15th at 5pm for a peaceful protest at Civic Center station to illustrate the solidarity with people we once knew and to stand up for your rights and those of your fellow citizens,” they said. “For the people outside of San Francisco, show solidarity by using black fax, email bombs, and phone calls to the BART Board of Directors.”

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