Cell Phone Censorship in San Francisco?

By: Michael T. Risher
BART train

Quick quiz: where did a government agency shut down cell service yesterday to disrupt a political protest? You wouldn't expect the answer to be San Francisco, but that's exactly what happened on Aug. 12, 2011. BART blocked cell service on trains and platforms in San Francisco after notifying riders that there might be demonstrations near Civic Center.

All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, saying it's anti democratic and a violation of the right to free expression and assembly. Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

So far the transit agency is mum on exactly how they blocked cell service. Did it ask the cell provider to shut off service? Did it simply shut off the service itself? Or did it illegally use a jammer? Either way, when the government responds to people protesting against it by silencing them, it's dangerous to democracy. The government shouldn't be in the business of cutting off the free flow of information.

Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it's halfway around the world or right here in San Francisco.

You have the right to speak out. Both the California Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protect your right to free expression. This guide from the ACLU of Northern California explains your rights as a demonstrator.


ACLU Comments to FCC (Apr. 30, 2012)

ACLU Letter to BART Chief of Police (Aug. 15, 2011)

ACLU Letter to BART Board of Directors (Aug. 22, 2011)