Updated at 2:34 to add more information
The Federal Communications Commission has released a statement on BART’s shutdown of cell service last week to prevent a protest, even as another protest brews for this evening’s commute.
Since Thursday’s cell shutdown, civil and digital rights activists have raised questions on the legality of the move, and have encouraged the FCC to intervene.
Today FCC spokesperson Neil Grace sent the following statement:
“Any time communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation. We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and 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.”
Thereby suggesting that the FCC, which regulates interstate and international communications including mobile phones, has indeed taken in interest in the case.
In addition, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents (among others) BART train operators and station agents, released a statement calling on the “California Public Utilities Commission, BART’s regulator, to investigate software glitches, public and employee safety and working conditions.”
Describing the cell phone block as “A decision-making process in which BART’s spokesperson makes public safety decisions without consulting BART management or its front-line workers,” Antonette Bryant, President and Business Agent for ATU 1555 says “the people who run BART have lost our confidence and are putting rider and employee safety at risk.”
“We need a thorough investigation by an outside, independent regulatory agency to find answers,” Bryant said.
Mayor Ed Lee has also expressed misgivings about the block, telling ABC7 “I just don’t agree with that. I don’t think that was a good move. I don’t know what all their reasons were and we are going to be talking to BART about how they came to that conclusion.”
Meanwhile, however, BART has refused to say if they plan on blocking their cell phone capability again tonight, when a protest is scheduled for 5 PM at the Civic Center Station.
BART spokesperson Jim Allison told the Associated Press “We have been planning for the protests that are said to be shaping up,” but has refused to tell any outlets, including this one, if those plans include shutting down cell service, as they did last week.
BART spokesperson Linton Johnson told the Ex “that the agency could employ that tactic again to assure that service is not disrupted for the evening commute.”
The hacker protest group “Anonymous” is apparently organizing the 5 PM protest, and is also taking credit for a cyber attack that resulted in the release of personal information for at least 2,400 users of the agency’s myBART.org website over the weekend.
Johnson says that federal authorities have been brought in to investigate the hack, saying “We hope to discover how they did it and learn from that,”
He defended the agency’s security of the website, saying “a victim should not be blamed when a thief comes in.”
In terms of tonight’s protest, it is unclear whether demonstrators planned to gather on the platform or outside the fare gates, although some announcements posted for the civil action say it will start on the Civic Center train platform.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said said people will be allowed to protest outside of the fare gates at the stations, but not on the platforms or trains themselves.
“I personally … welcome the group and anyone that wants to protest, as long as they do it safely,” Johnson said.
Johnson today defended BART’s four-hour suspension of wireless services Thursday because “we had knowledge ahead of time about the time, place and manner of how this illegal protest was going to take place, and were forced into a gut-wrenching decision of how we were going to stop it.”
“We were forced into this decision,” he said. “This is not one we wanted to make.
Cell signal willing (perhaps we should stop and the laundry mat and get quarters for the pay phone), we’ll be reporting from the demonstration, which organizers from Anonymous say will be peaceful.