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View Full Version : San Francisco cel phone shutdown: safety issue, or hint of Orwell?


Snowboarder Bo
08-13-2011, 07:39 PM
Yesterday, the Bay Area Rapid Transit shut down a number of cel phone repeaters in their train stations (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_TRANSIT_PHONE_JAMMING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-08-13-18-19-29), ostensibly to prevent people from using their phones and social media sites to coordinate a demonstration over a recent shooting by BART police.

This was described as a public safety measure by the officials who ordered it, but many see it as an intrusion and possible infringement of people's rights.

"I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this. We really don't have the right to be this type of censor," said Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors. "In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair." (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_TRANSIT_PHONE_JAMMING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-08-13-18-19-29)

Many people are looking at this in light of the recent riots in the UK and how they were handled (and how similar events might be handled in the future).

Similar questions of censorship have arisen in recent days as Britain's government put the idea of curbing social media services on the table in response to several nights of widespread looting and violence in London and other English cities. Police claim that young criminals used Twitter and Blackberry instant messages to coordinate looting sprees in riots.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government, spy agencies and the communications industry are looking at whether there should be limits on the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or services like BlackBerry Messenger to spread disorder. The suggestions have met with outrage - with some critics comparing Cameron to the despots ousted during the Arab Spring. (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_TRANSIT_PHONE_JAMMING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-08-13-18-19-29)

While I doubt that PM Cameron rises to quite that level of despotic ambition, I have to wonder if there are limits on how much technology can be shut down, or how often, before it seems to violate people's rights. The linked article is fairly long (for a news article, anyway) and details both sides of the question.

It wasn't a decision made lightly. This wasn't about free speech. It was about safety.
We can arrest and prosecute people for the crimes they commit. You are not allowed to shut down people's cellphones and prevent them from speaking because you think they might commit a crime in the future. (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_TRANSIT_PHONE_JAMMING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-08-13-18-19-29)

On the one hand, I understand that public safety could have been an issue. On the other hand, I don't know that a part of the planned demonstration was to bring weapons and assault people, so I'm not sure what actual public safety issues there really were. I don't think I'd have a problem seeing that a flash mob that was directed to bring Molotov cocktails would warrant an effort to suppress the medium the message was being passed through, but what about a demonstration that is planned without violence? Is the mere fact that some violence could occur when people demonstrate enough to warrant this type of shutdown in any planned protest?

I thought I'd throw this out to my fellow Dopers to read through and ponder. I'm interested in legal opinions as well as ordinary folks' thoughts on this specifically and on the action in general. Did BART go too far? Or did they do the minimum necessary to disrupt what was a potential safety hazard? Did they really disrupt anything at all? Is this something that should be done all the time? Should it be done at all? At who's discretion? Under what criteria?

Musicat
08-13-2011, 07:41 PM
Echoes of Mubarak, eh? "Safety" seems to be a dodge to hide behind.

Joey P
08-13-2011, 07:44 PM
I didn't read the article (just the parts you quoted), but ISTM that all they did was shut down repeaters. The things that make it easier to get a signal within the station. Is that correct? If that's the case, could people have simply walked outside and continued receiving facebook updates/texts/tweets?
When I first heard about this, I heard that they were blocking the signal. ISTM, that there's a big difference between blocking the signal and turning off repeaters that they installed to make life easier for passengers waiting to board.

Bryan Ekers
08-13-2011, 07:48 PM
Are there pay phones in the stations? If so, I can picture that being used to counter "prevention of expression" issues. I can even picture the stations installing more pay phones to justify future repeater-shutdowns.

Musicat
08-13-2011, 07:49 PM
When I first heard about this, I heard that they were blocking the signal. ISTM, that there's a big difference between blocking the signal and turning off repeaters that they installed to make life easier for passengers waiting to board.Blocking the signal would violate FCC regs. They just turned it off.Are there pay phones in the stations?Are there pay phones anywhere in 2011?

Joey P
08-13-2011, 07:51 PM
NETA, I'm not sure how I feel yet, but if all they did was shut down repeaters, I think before any discussions commence (not here, but in the media) people need to be very clear on terminology. Specifically, that shutting down repeaters in the station is not the same as cutting off your cell phone service or blocking access to the internet.

Bryan Ekers
08-13-2011, 07:57 PM
Are there pay phones anywhere in 2011?


Umm..... yes? And in a concentrated area like a train station, it should be relatively easy to install or re-install and maintain a bank of pay phones.

To the more general issue (and in light of recent London unrest), I can picture it becoming legally acceptable to electronically mass-monitor text and twitter messages for terms relating to flash rioting, to alert human law enforcement when there's a spike in such traffic with a time and location attached.

Snowboarder Bo
08-13-2011, 08:00 PM
From the article I linked to in the OP:

The question resonated Saturday in San Francisco and beyond as details emerged of Bay Area Rapid Transit officials' decision to cut off underground cellphone service for a few hours at several stations Thursday.

BART officials acknowledged Friday afternoon that they had switched off the transit system's underground cell phone network, which runs from Balboa Park Station through the Transbay Tube, from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday to prevent protesters from coordinating plans to stop trains. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/12/BAEU1KMS8U.DTL)

(bolding mine)

I have no idea if there actually were plans to "stop trains". I'm not sure how protesters were supposedly going to accomplish that, either.

What is clear is that, by their own admission, BART officials turned off the network that helps provide cel phone service. I don't even know if they actually own the network or if it's just on BART property. If anyone has more details, please provide them with links to the source stories.

Joey P
08-13-2011, 08:12 PM
I just noticed that in the AP article, if you look in the title bar it uses the phrase "phone jamming" which, again, wasn't the case. As I said before, I'm not sure where I stand on this, but I wish they would get everything straight. Cell service wasn't blocked* or jammed, they just turned off repeaters.

*One could call it blocked, but only due to the geography of where the cell phones are, no one actively blocked them. It's not that these people were in Faraday cages.

Declan
08-13-2011, 08:38 PM
I don't even know if they actually own the network or if it's just on BART property. If anyone has more details, please provide them with links to the source stories.

I doubt they own the network, the actual cell network, that would be sprint, verizon,at&t etc. What the repeaters do is take the signal from the providers and amplify it, so that it can be used underground, or in metal trains or geograhic areas that notice loss of signal.

Turn off the repeaters and you kill the signal until such time as the subway patron returns to the surface.

Declan

Magiver
08-13-2011, 08:55 PM
The repeaters are a service that BART supplies within it's domain. They didn't shut them down willy nilly, there was already a group of protesters stopping the trains (http://www.ktvu.com/video/28517481/index.html).

If I was a passenger who was held up by these howler monkeys after a hard day in the salt mines I would certainly have gotten all stabby over their antics.

Protesting is a hallmark of freedom but if you use it to interfere with other people's lives then it will eventually get ugly.

Really Not All That Bright
08-13-2011, 10:28 PM
I think the distinction between blocking cellphone signals and not boosting them makes this specific action perfectly okay. As Joey P says, if people could just walk outside the stations and make their calls, it's kind of hard to see this as the fist of Big Brother crushing le people in its grasp.

Joey P
08-13-2011, 10:37 PM
I think the distinction between blocking cellphone signals and not boosting them makes this specific action perfectly okay. As Joey P says, if people could just walk outside the stations and make their calls, it's kind of hard to see this as the fist of Big Brother crushing le people in its grasp.

Snowboarder quoted part of an article suggesting that some of these repeaters were in a tube (I assume that means subway where people couldn't get out). But again, this isn't blocking the service, it's simply disabling a system that BART chose to put in place as a convenience to it's customers. It would be different if, say, the tube already had a great signal and they shielded it. I can't imagine it would be unconstitutional for them to just rip the repeaters out altogether if they chose to.

Daddypants
08-15-2011, 01:21 PM
I think there’s a debate here…

You’ve probably heard about BART’s decision to black cells phones service in it’s stations to stop a protest, and the response by the hacker group Anonymous. If Anonymous is trying to get sympathy for their cause, I’m not sure its working. Why release the contact information of innocent train riders, why not try and get the information of the people in charge?

I feel the same way about the Sony hacking. Supposedly it was done because Sony sued a guy who wanted to release “jailbreak” info for the PS3. At first I thought, “Yeah! Stick it to the man!” But then I questioned why my information was being released along with millions of others. What’d I ever do to Anonymous?
Does Anonymous even care how their actions may affect regular folk?

Oh, if you’re part of Anonymous, please don’t hack SDMB because of this post.

Bryan Ekers
08-15-2011, 01:26 PM
Well, Bart didn't really block cell phone service as such, so (no offense) are you sure you've written an accurate description of what Anonymous is doing?

John Bredin
08-15-2011, 01:43 PM
On the one hand, I understand that public safety could have been an issue. On the other hand, I don't know that a part of the planned demonstration was to bring weapons and assault people, so I'm not sure what actual public safety issues there really were. I don't think I'd have a problem seeing that a flash mob that was directed to bring Molotov cocktails would warrant an effort to suppress the medium the message was being passed through, but what about a demonstration that is planned without violence? Is the mere fact that some violence could occur when people demonstrate enough to warrant this type of shutdown in any planned protest?

While a subway station is clearly designed to handle large crowds of people, the inherent presumption (inherent in the design of the station, in how the transit operator manages it, and in how passengers use it) is that the crowd is there to board trains and that there's a flow of people as trains arrive, people exit trains, people board trains, and trains leave. A large number of people standing on the platform with no intention of boarding a train is a disruption. We're not talking about a public plaza but an exceedingly enclosed space with limited exits.

Add a "civil disobedience" element of intentionally blocking others from boarding/exiting trains, even if that's done wholly non-violently, and I can see a raft of public safety issues without anyone bringing weapons or intending to assault anyone. Again, enclosed space with limited exits; a block-the-path-with-your-bodies peaceful protest that presents no danger on the street could be disastrous in a subway station.

Watch the news video posted by Magiver. Though apparently none of the protestors attacked anyone, the public safety issues are obvious: trapping other people on subway cars, and backing up the flow of trains so that stations became overcrowded, at the height of rush hour.

Imagine all the complaints you've seen about tourists on the Washington DC Metro, London Tube, etc. who don't understand the need to move, and multiply them a hundred-fold because at least the tourists intend to get on a train in their own sweet time. :p

Daddypants
08-15-2011, 01:50 PM
Well, Bart didn't really block cell phone service as such, so (no offense) are you sure you've written an accurate description of what Anonymous is doing?

Yes.

Here's an article (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-20092491-501465.html) that better sums up what I'm trying to say.

Also, apparently it was LulzSec that hacked PSN.

Marley23
08-15-2011, 01:52 PM
Merged the thread started by Daddypants into a slightly older one started by Snowboarder Bo. The posts made to Daddypants' thread are now posts 14, 15, and 17.

Daddypants
08-15-2011, 02:12 PM
Merged the thread started by Daddypants into a slightly older one started by Snowboarder Bo. The posts made to Daddypants' thread are now posts 14, 15, and 17.

Thanks! Didn't see the original thread.

Daddypants
08-15-2011, 04:42 PM
And here they are (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/15/kelly-thomas-anonymous_n_927305.html?ir=Technology) threatening to take down the Fullerton Police Department's website and communications. That will really do wonders for public safety. :rolleyes:

Tom Tildrum
08-15-2011, 05:24 PM
Watch the news video posted by Magiver. Though apparently none of the protestors attacked anyone, the public safety issues are obvious: trapping other people on subway cars, and backing up the flow of trains so that stations became overcrowded, at the height of rush hour.

The ultimate fear being someone getting bumped off an overcrowded platform onto the track. I don't know much about what the BART stations look like, though, or whether this would be a reasonable fear.

TheMightyAtlas
08-15-2011, 05:35 PM
The ultimate fear being someone getting bumped off an overcrowded platform onto the track. I don't know much about what the BART stations look like, though, or whether this would be a reasonable fear.

From my experience with BART, yes, this is a reaonsable fear in many stations during rush hour.

XT
08-15-2011, 05:41 PM
Yesterday, the Bay Area Rapid Transit shut down a number of cel phone repeaters in their train stations, ostensibly to prevent people from using their phones and social media sites to coordinate a demonstration over a recent shooting by BART police.

Well, I came in here to basically agree that it was a violation of 1st Amendment rights to block communications and stifle free speech, but...well, looking at this more closely, that's not what happened. If BART just shut down their own repeaters, well...that was well within their rights to do. They were THEIR repeaters, provided for the convinence of their customers, not an inalienable right. Protesters trying to organize would have had to take the uncomfortable option of walking to a stair case or some other place where they could get reception in the terminal, or, *gasp*...go outside to arrange the protest! :eek:

Many people are looking at this in light of the recent riots in the UK and how they were handled (and how similar events might be handled in the future).

I would think that the English would have the same issue as we would wrt cutting off cell service. It's one thing to turn off repeaters in your station/rail system, another to order (I presume) a cellular provider (or multiple providers) to shut off actual cell service in an area. I can see all sorts of public safety issues with that, let alone the violations it would entail.

I don't think I'd have a problem seeing that a flash mob that was directed to bring Molotov cocktails would warrant an effort to suppress the medium the message was being passed through, but what about a demonstration that is planned without violence? Is the mere fact that some violence could occur when people demonstrate enough to warrant this type of shutdown in any planned protest?

I think it's more an issue of whether as a private corporation you have the right to stop providing a service of convenience to your customers (repeated cellular service in an area where normal cell service is limited or non-existent), or whether you are obligated to provide this service regardless. I'd say that it's up to the company or organization. You don't have a right to cell service repeaters...it's an additional service that's being offered.

Now...if they are talking about shutting down regular cellular service into and area, well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I'd have a MAJOR problem with that as a method to stifle public protest or for any other purported 'public safety' reason.

-XT

Musicat
08-15-2011, 08:18 PM
Now...if they are talking about shutting down regular cellular service into and area, well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I'd have a MAJOR problem with that as a method to stifle public protest or for any other purported 'public safety' reason.
So you're OK with shutting off service to one area, but upset about shutting it off in another?

XT
08-15-2011, 08:49 PM
No...I'm ok with shutting off repeaters that are being provided for convenience by the people providing them, and not ok with forcing providers to shut off or firewall general services in an area in the name of 'public safety'. What I said seemed pretty straight forward to me...is there still any confusion?

-XT

Joey P
08-15-2011, 08:52 PM
So you're OK with shutting off service to one area, but upset about shutting it off in another?

What I got from that is that XT is ok with a business turning off repeaters that they own that are there simply to make it easier for customers to use their cell phones while on their property, but not okay with a cell companies shutting down service to certain areas or a city.
OTOH, cell phone companies are private business...shouldn't they be allowed to cut service to a certain area for whatever reason they choose? I think the issue is going to be if the government called all the cell phone companies and asked them (or forced them) to cut network access in a given area. And that, I think, is really what the problem is. BART is a publicly owned company.
I think if the exact same scenario happened, but the trains were privately run, it wouldn't be nearly as big of a deal and certainly the name Orwell wouldn't have come up.

XT
08-15-2011, 09:02 PM
What I got from that is that XT is ok with a business turning off repeaters that they own that are there simply to make it easier for customers to use their cell phones while on their property, but not okay with a cell companies shutting down service to certain areas or a city.
OTOH, cell phone companies are private business...shouldn't they be allowed to cut service to a certain area for whatever reason they choose? I think the issue is going to be if the government called all the cell phone companies and asked them (or forced them) to cut network access in a given area. And that, I think, is really what the problem is. BART is a publicly owned company.
I think if the exact same scenario happened, but the trains were privately run, it wouldn't be nearly as big of a deal and certainly the name Orwell wouldn't have come up.

Yes, exactly. I would probably have an issue with, say, Sprint and every other cellular provider in a geographic area decided to shut off phone service in some city to stifle protest and assembly, even though they are a private company, which I don't have an issue with a public concern shutting off repeaters in their facility to do the same thing. I guess the equivalent would be if I shut off wireless access to the public in one of my buildings as opposed to shutting off all data services to everyone in one of those buildings. The public WiFi access is provided for convenience, and I have no problem with shutting it off if necessary, while it would take something fairly dire for me to shut off ALL access, and not something I'd approve of to stifle protest and assembly, which I find perfectly acceptable.

It's not a perfect analogy, but the best I could come up with waiting for my dinner to arrive. ;)

-XT

Musicat
08-15-2011, 10:51 PM
Bart shut off service to a particular area.

A cellphone company shuts off service to a particular area.

What's the difference? To the user, the result is the same. In the specific area, they can't use their communication devices because of the actions of one company.

Does the size of the area matter? The only difference is the coverage.

Does the technology used matter? The end result is the same.

XT
08-15-2011, 11:02 PM
What's the difference?

Turning off repeaters (that BART put in as a convenience for it's customers to get extended service) in a subway is different than shutting off all cellular service in an area. I guess I don't understand why the difference is hard to grasp. Not being snarky, I really don't understand why you don't see the difference. :(

To the user, the result is the same.

It is as long as they stay in the subway or in terminals with minimal or no service I suppose. But if they walk a 100 feet away and out of the LOS shadow then they would have service again.

In the specific area, they can't use their communication devices because of the actions of one company.

Got to hate that, considering they only HAVE that extended service because BART put in repeaters. It's not part of the normal cell service, or they wouldn't need repeaters to get signal into those areas.

I'm making some assumptions here, since I haven't really looked into the article deeply and am going on what the OP posted...but normal cell service from the standard cell towers wasn't disrupted in the area, only extended service in areas that the cell vendors didn't cover with their normal service.

In some places you can get a city area WiFi. If we are in at a Starbucks that offers it's own WiFi and the city service doesn't work well (or at all), and Starbucks decides to shut it off, well...sucks to be you, if you wanted to play some WoW while drinking your mocha latte. ;)

Does the technology used matter? The end result is the same.

The technology doesn't really matter, no...but what is being done, how it was done and who it affected DOES matter in this case. Like I said, I came into the thread prepared to blast the folks who were blocking free speech, but that's not what happened here IMHO. The fact that these folks would have to walk up some stairs or maybe a block or two to do their tweets and organize their protest just doesn't do anything for me, RO-wise.

-XT

Jimmy Chitwood
08-15-2011, 11:07 PM
BART not being a private company does change the equation quite a bit legally, although I can see the argument that in this case it's not that much different.

The 1st Amendment argument there (I'm not sure whether I buy it or not; I'm just kind of spitballing) is that once the government opens a forum up for public speech, it has to abide by the strict standards of free speech, even where it could have simply not opened the forum up in the first place. In other words, whereas for Starbucks or whomever it's a perfectly reasonable thing to point out that they don't have to offer wifi at all, so they can shut it down whenever they like, to protect whatever interest they like, the government can't quite rely on the same rationale. Once there's "speech" going on, doing anything to restrict it, if it violates somebody's 1st Amendment rights, can't be defended on the grounds that they could have just never allowed any expression at all. Like if the government builds a park with a little outdoor stage, and then they find out there's a Klan rally planned for that space, they can't suddenly conveniently decide to close the park for renovations for that weekend -- even though they could certainly have just never built the park in the first place. The repeaters here are the park, and the government shut it down.

There's still the question of whether shutting down the repeaters was actually justified, even if you accept the above. I suspect that mostly just comes down to one's politics. It's an interesting question, though; one of those things that seems reasonable in this one case, but with kind of frightening implications.

Musicat
08-15-2011, 11:16 PM
It is as long as they stay in the subway or in terminals with minimal or no service I suppose. But if they walk a 100 feet away and out of the LOS shadow then they would have service again. If it so easy to get around it, why turn it off in the first place?

What if a cellphone company shut down a single tower? You can always get a signal from another one, or drive a block.

What we are discussing is not the concept, but the degree.

XT
08-15-2011, 11:25 PM
If it so easy to get around it, why turn it off in the first place?

I don't know...why didn't they? I can tell you that if they were using signal repeaters then that pre-supposed that there is signal somewhere fairly close. Of course, they could be talking about micro-cells or something similar, which means that there is no cell service in the area at all, and they are using their own internet connections to connect to the vendors cellular service. Regardless, it's an extra service that BART is providing their customers...not a holy and indelible right that their customers have to service.

What if a cellphone company shut down a single tower? You can always get a signal from another one, or drive a block.

If a single vendor shut down an entire tower, then most likely they would be disrupting multiple vendors service, since in my experience cell vendors rent space on a given tower and don't own the entire tower...or if they do, they work out a peering agreement, which they would be in violation of if they deliberately took down an entire tower. (BTW, 'towers' can mean a lot of different things)

What we are discussing is not the concept, but the degree.

We are having a different discussion then. To me, there should be no expectation of service outside of the service provided by your vendor. So, if I'm in the middle of bumfuck New Mexico where there is no cell service, but Parks and Rec puts in a repeater for my convenience, then that's something extra that is beyond what I should expect. If some yahoos decide to do some silly shit and Parks and Rec shuts off their repeaters, well...tough titty, since my regular cell vendor doesn't provide service in that area and I shouldn't have any expectation of service.

-XT

Martin Hyde
08-15-2011, 11:30 PM
Bart shut off service to a particular area.

A cellphone company shuts off service to a particular area.

What's the difference? To the user, the result is the same. In the specific area, they can't use their communication devices because of the actions of one company.

Does the size of the area matter? The only difference is the coverage.

Does the technology used matter? The end result is the same.

I think maybe the technology behind cellphone repeaters might be confusing the issue.

Let us instead posit a different scenario. Imagine a large business park off an interstate exit, this business often has visitors coming to its location, and even has some customers coming by from time to time. The business buys business class internet service from some random ISP (let's just say Comcast.) At some point the business made the decision to create an open WiFi network for visitors and customers to use while at the location.

The business has not become a common carrier, a service provider, or anything of that nature. They are customers of an ISP, who have made the legally acceptable decision to share their internet connection using wireless technology. This business is not considered a provider of internet service just because they are turning on the access, they are instead simply a private entity sharing its infrastructure with visitors to its facility as a convenience/nicety.

No one that comes to this business facility is doing so to receive wireless internet service, this business has no contractual relationship with anyone who comes to this facility to provide them with wireless internet service, again, it's just a convenience.

Now, let's say this business has done something politically objectionable, and attracted a large crowd of protesters that surround the business property with signs and etc. Let's presume the protesters are doing their protesting from public lands that happen to border very close to the business facilities.

Now, the network administrator at the business notices since the protests began, a huge increase in usage of the network has happened. He looks into it and sees hundreds of people connecting wireless to the network. Since these people are here to protest and cause trouble for the business, the business leadership decides to turn off the wireless network to disallow the protesters the free use of said network.

Did the business do anything illegal? I'd say absolutely not. Did BART do anything illegal? Well, let's compare the two situations and posit ways in which it could have been illegal.

In my scenario, the business is not turning off the internet, they are turning off a method of access to their internet connection that they provided with their infrastructure. In the BART scenario, BART is not turning off the cellular phone networks. Cellular networks work with towers that are owned by telecom companies, these towers broadcast and receive cell signals and allow phone calls to be made. BART did not turn off the towers owned by AT&T or Verizon or whoever. Instead, what BART appears to have done, is take cell phone repeaters that BART installed, and turned them off.

If BART had gone up to an AT&T cell tower and forcibly shut it down, that would be lots of things. It would be illegal without a court order for sure, and a violation of various property and other rights AT&T had in regard to its ability to operate its cell tower. It would potentially also represent a civil rights violation for the customers of AT&T depending on various other factors.

If BART had used cell phone jamming technology to block cell signals from coming into their system, that would have been massively illegal under FCC regulations. There is virtually no legal usage for cell phone jamming in the United States, by any entity government or otherwise. It is a serious crime even for a private person to have a cell phone jammer. There was a teacher I think in Florida who put one in his classroom to stop kids from using cell phones, he got in serious trouble (and in the process I believe a company that was found to be selling these jammers over the internet to Americans also got in trouble.)

In prisons contraband cell phones have become such a problem that various prison officials around the country have tried to get certain exceptions put in place so that they could install jamming software. That effort has gone nowhere, because it's just really something that isn't allowed. (The cellular industry has successfully argued that jammers in prisons could impact service for nearby customers, or even transiting customers passing by on nearby interstates and things of that nature.) If any government entity is legally jamming cell phone signals in the United States, I imagine it is probably some sort of alphabet agency as part of secret operations, but it's definitely not widespread and not publicized.

To get back to BART, did they have a responsibility to maintain those cell phone repeaters? Do they have a responsibility to give their passengers access to the wider cellular network? I don't know the answer to that. I doubt it, though. Most businesses that provide WiFi do so as a convenience. McDonald's provides free WiFi, so does Starbucks, so do many hotels. I imagine that if the WiFi is out you cannot successfully sue McDonald's, Starbucks, or your hotel (hotel may give you a discount or something, though) because I imagine somewhere you can find small print that just says "there are no guarantees of service, this service is offered free of charge where available as possible under given conditions etc etc." Basically companies that are doing you a favor by giving you free internet are fine doing that if it makes it more likely you will patronize them--but they aren't signing on to become AT&T and Verizon wherein they now have a legal responsibility to provide you service.

BART I would argue probably did not become legally the same as a telecom just because it installed repeaters. If AT&T had turned off its cell tower at BART's request, that would probably have been an illegal act by AT&T. Telecom companies are heavily regulated by PSC and the FCC, they have genuine legal responsibilities to provide service, to maintain certain uptime, to rectify problems when they arise and etc. If they fail to do that, there can and are consequences. However, every business expanding network access (be it to the land-based internet through WiFi access points or to the cellular network through cellular repeaters) does not assume all the responsibilities of telecom companies. I would be willing to bet that buying transit on BART means you are entitled to be transported, and if they don't get the job done there is probably a commission or regulatory body you can go to in order to complain they didn't provide the service they were supposed to provide. I doubt that providing me with a clear cell signal is part of the guarantee BART makes to me when I buy a ride on one of their conveyances.

Maybe it is, though, but if it so then at worst BART has violated some BART regulation or rule. I certainly do not believe they violated any Federal law or Constitutional provision--I seriously doubt the FCC views them as a telecommunications company under their regulatory oversight simply because they installed repeaters. If so, any business doing the same would have to maintain certain mandatory uptime and etc just like a real teleco, and if that was how it was these systems just wouldn't exist because no one aside from AT&T or Verizon who are making tens of billions a quarter are willing to be regulated that heavily--that's their core business, it's just a convenience that BART added on to their core business.

Joey P
08-15-2011, 11:32 PM
If it so easy to get around it, why turn it off in the first place?

I suspect you're driving towards "It's not that easy to get around" but it really was. Based on what I read, there were repeaters in the tunnel, but at least for the people in the station, I'd imagine all they had to do was walk outside or a few hundred feet to get a better signal. The thing is, most people aren't going to do that. They're in the station, waiting for their train, they don't have a signal, so they keep trying or they just put their phone away and don't give it a second thought. I suspect most people in a train station don't have an extra 30 minutes to wander around outside trying to get a signal so they can get twitter/facebook updates.

What if a cellphone company shut down a single tower? You can always get a signal from another one, or drive a block.

What we are discussing is not the concept, but the degree.
I'm not sure what point you're making here. If it's not about the concept, then what are you saying? Shutting off one or two towers is somewhat similar to shutting off a few repeaters. It essentially creates a dead area.
It's going to come down to who created the dead area and what specific equipment was cut to create said dead area.

Joey P
08-15-2011, 11:47 PM
BART not being a private company does change the equation quite a bit legally, although I can see the argument that in this case it's not that much different.

The 1st Amendment argument there (I'm not sure whether I buy it or not; I'm just kind of spitballing) is that once the government opens a forum up for public speech, it has to abide by the strict standards of free speech, even where it could have simply not opened the forum up in the first place.

So, for example, if BART were to install some wireless B/G routers in the stations and tunnels would they really have to keep them forever? Do they now have to keep these repeaters around until the current technology has gone the way of analog cell phones? Do they really have to maintain all this (soon to be) legacy hardware just because they installed it as a convenience? (Just asking, not arguing)

In other words, let's say they installed some Wireless G routers and a few years down the road Wireless Q comes out. At this point 98% of the people connect (with their laptops) via Wireless Q. Will they have to keep the G routers around for those last few people?

XT
08-15-2011, 11:57 PM
BART wouldn't be obligated to provide ANY WiFi or other services, since (afaik) they have no SLA to do so, and none of their customers SHOULD have any expectations for them to do so, one way or the other.

We provide public WiFi in several of the buildings I manage (they are state facilities). If tomorrow I shut them down, then that would be tough shit, basically...the public has no SLA with us, nor should they have any expectation of data (or voice) services when they are in our buildings. We offer them as a public service and a convenience...not as a right.

The only one you should have an expectation of service with is who ever you are paying for service....and that service will be based on the SLA you both agreed upon.

-XT

punch line loser
08-16-2011, 12:03 AM
The article linked to in the OP refers ambiguously to both "shutting down cell towers" and suspending service within the stations. Clearly there is a little bit of biased reporting here.

The way I see it, no one is trying to deny anyone's right to protest, and I don't see why the protesters need to congregate in such high traffic areas where their actions could affect the safety of uninvolved people, not to mention piss them off and potentially discourage people from joining their cause. It doesn't seem like BART is trying to suppress these people because their ideas are dangerous, but rather because their physical actions are.

Jimmy Chitwood
08-16-2011, 12:16 AM
In other words, let's say they installed some Wireless G routers and a few years down the road Wireless Q comes out. At this point 98% of the people connect (with their laptops) via Wireless Q. Will they have to keep the G routers around for those last few people?

No, they just can't violate anybody's free speech rights if they want to change the service they provide. Them being the government puts them under the microscope, but if the actions they take don't violate the rules the courts have set up for restricting speech, they're still OK. Those are complicated. To put it simply: shutting down the G routers because it cost too much compared to the number of people it helped would almost certainly be fine. Shutting down the routers because people were using them to totally dis Bieber, or praise Allah, or criticize the way the transportation system was run - those would be problems. That sort of thing.

Whether what BART did here was a problem would come down to whether the protests were enough of an imminent threat to public safety to justify the actions taken, since that seems to have been the reasoning.

That all depends on us accepting that this is a free speech issue at all, though, which not everyone will. Some people will say that a train station is more like a courthouse or a post office, which aren't places that count as public forums where you have full rights of expression, than like a city street or a park. You can't claim discrimination when the government shuts down your protest in front of a jury box. At any rate, xtisme is incorrect, or at least oversimplifying, for the reasons I described above.

The Second Stone
08-16-2011, 12:28 AM
I'll vote goosestepping Nazis in their infant stage. The BART governance are a bunch of truly venal douches. See First Amendment to US Constitution

Peremensoe
08-16-2011, 02:46 AM
I haven't entirely worked this out for myself, but I think Jimmy Chitwood here gets close to the gist here.

BART not being a private company does change the equation quite a bit legally, although I can see the argument that in this case it's not that much different.

The 1st Amendment argument there (I'm not sure whether I buy it or not; I'm just kind of spitballing) is that once the government opens a forum up for public speech, it has to abide by the strict standards of free speech, even where it could have simply not opened the forum up in the first place. In other words, whereas for Starbucks or whomever it's a perfectly reasonable thing to point out that they don't have to offer wifi at all, so they can shut it down whenever they like, to protect whatever interest they like, the government can't quite rely on the same rationale. Once there's "speech" going on, doing anything to restrict it, if it violates somebody's 1st Amendment rights, can't be defended on the grounds that they could have just never allowed any expression at all.

I would certainly have no problem with a transit system that never provided cell signal boosters at all. But I don't like the idea that communications can be shut down based on content.

BTW, the decision to cut cell service seems to have grown the overall transit disruption (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/15/MNGT1KNJU1.DTL), not contained it.

Martin Hyde
08-16-2011, 07:27 AM
I'm all about free speech and protest but the SCOTUS has established that you can prohibit protesting in certain places. If I try to lead a protest into the President's bedroom, there will be consequences.

They should pass a law making it a felony to interfere with the transit system and mass arrest these people. Make it the most minor felony you can, so that realistically the offenders just receive probation, but have their records permanently tarnished.

BART has an office building somewhere their administrators work, right? Why not protest there? Why risk the safety of the passengers who may be using the system because they have no other means to get to and from work?

Peremensoe
08-16-2011, 07:43 AM
BART has an office building somewhere their administrators work, right? Why not protest there?

Because this way gets much more attention, of course.

Snowboarder Bo
08-16-2011, 08:10 AM
They should pass a law making it a felony to interfere with the transit system and mass arrest these people. Make it the most minor felony you can, so that realistically the offenders just receive probation, but have their records permanently tarnished.

I think this is a sort-sighted statement. I can see that law passing and then see a bunch of people with felonies on their record for, say, yelling at a transit employee or jumping a turnstile or some other innocuous activity that a transit employee or cop just didn't like that much. It's too vague and too harsh a descriptor as there really isn't a category of "minor felony".

Ravenman
08-16-2011, 08:55 AM
What if a cellphone company shut down a single tower? Yes, what if a cell phone company shut down a single tower? I'm not following what you're driving at here. If AT&T decided to shut down service in a city, or part of a city, for whatever reason, are you implying that they should not be allowed to do that?

Musicat
08-16-2011, 09:07 AM
Yes, what if a cell phone company shut down a single tower? I'm not following what you're driving at here. If AT&T decided to shut down service in a city, or part of a city, for whatever reason, are you implying that they should not be allowed to do that?I'm only contrasting removing service from one area thru a tower turnoff compared to removing service from a tube thru a repeater shutoff. I fail to see a difference in the outcome.

If you are OK with one, you should be OK with the other. They differ only by the technology used and the area covered. From the end user's standpoint, his service is cut off the same either way, and he can get around either by moving to another location.

Martin Hyde
08-16-2011, 10:13 AM
I'm only contrasting removing service from one area thru a tower turnoff compared to removing service from a tube thru a repeater shutoff. I fail to see a difference in the outcome.

If you are OK with one, you should be OK with the other. They differ only by the technology used and the area covered. From the end user's standpoint, his service is cut off the same either way, and he can get around either by moving to another location.

Not so fast. If I'm in the checkout lane and the customer in front of me collapses I have no legal requirement to render aid. However if I was an EMT in many jurisdictions I would have a legal responsibility even if I was off duty.

Relevance? An entity expanding network coverage as a convenience has different legal responsibilities than a regulated entity that accepts consumer money in exchange for providing service.

You are correct turning off a repeater and turning off a single cell tower have similar practical effects. However the legal responsibilities of the parties taking the action may be and probably are different. Just like a certified person employed as a first responder has different legal responsibilities than I do. If both if us fail to render aid it has the same practical effect but the legal consequences will be far different.

DrFidelius
08-16-2011, 10:35 AM
BART's mandate, such as it is, is to provide transportation for citizens of the area. I do not believe they have a contractual or legislated responsibility to provide communication access for those citizen who use their transportation services. The repeaters are an extra service which can be turned off at any time for any reason (so far as I can see, IANAL.)

Ravenman
08-16-2011, 12:10 PM
I'm only contrasting removing service from one area thru a tower turnoff compared to removing service from a tube thru a repeater shutoff. I fail to see a difference in the outcome.

If you are OK with one, you should be OK with the other. They differ only by the technology used and the area covered. From the end user's standpoint, his service is cut off the same either way, and he can get around either by moving to another location.
I follow that line of reasoning, but I'm not following if you are saying that AT&T should not be allowed to shut down one of its cell towers for some reason other than repairs.

So, if a cell phone provider sought to turn off service in some areas due to a perception that it would be in the interest of the public, would that be okay in your view? Because, like you say, if it is okay for a cell phone provider to limit access to its network for some reason, then one would think that it would be okay for the owner of a cell phone repeater to turn it off for some reason.

DianaG
08-16-2011, 12:15 PM
Holy crap, did I miss the amendment giving me a Constitutional right to underground cell phone service?

Musicat
08-16-2011, 12:16 PM
I follow that line of reasoning, but I'm not following if you are saying that AT&T should not be allowed to shut down one of its cell towers for some reason other than repairs. I said nothing about who should be allowed to do what. I am only saying that, since from the consumer's point of view, either turning off a cellphone tower or a repeater has the identical effect and the identical workaround, it seems illogical to approve of one action while disapproving of the other.
Holy crap, did I miss the amendment giving me a Constitutional right to underground cell phone service?It's the same one that gives a constitutional right to aboveground cell phone service.

XT
08-16-2011, 12:20 PM
I said nothing about who should be allowed to do what. I am only saying that, since from the consumer's point of view, either turning off a cellphone tower or a repeater has the identical effect and the identical workaround, it seems illogical to approve of one action while disapproving of the other.

*sigh* You pay your cell service provider for cellular service based on an SLA that you agreed upon. You don't pay BART to provide cell service outside of the range of the cell service provided by your cellular provider and based on the SLA you agreed upon. One is offered as a service you pay for, the other as a convenience that you don't.

Again, I don't understand why this is so hard to grasp. It seems so obvious to me.

-XT

DianaG
08-16-2011, 12:27 PM
It's the same one that gives a constitutional right to aboveground cell phone service.
This is a whoosh, right?

If not... you might wanna sit down for this...

Ravenman
08-16-2011, 12:46 PM
I said nothing about who should be allowed to do what. I am only saying that, since from the consumer's point of view, either turning off a cellphone tower or a repeater has the identical effect and the identical workaround, it seems illogical to approve of one action while disapproving of the other.I know you haven't stated who should be able to do what. I'm asking you for your opinion. You aren't dodging the question, are you?

DrFidelius
08-16-2011, 01:09 PM
I said nothing about who should be allowed to do what. I am only saying that, since from the consumer's point of view, either turning off a cellphone tower or a repeater has the identical effect and the identical workaround, it seems illogical to approve of one action while disapproving of the other.
....

Okay. I also fully support the right of the owners of the cell tower to shut down their service for any reason. We have a right to freely assemble; I do not believe we have a right to access any specific medium of communication.

(For the record, I oppose a government ordered shut down of cell service, but I do not believe there is a requirement that the government make every effort to supply cell phone service anywhere the private company's signal does not reach, such as in subway tunnels.)

Drunky Smurf
08-16-2011, 02:06 PM
It's the same one that gives a constitutional right to aboveground cell phone service.

You mean the one that doesn't exist?

Musicat
08-16-2011, 02:15 PM
I know you haven't stated who should be able to do what. I'm asking you for your opinion. You aren't dodging the question, are you?No, I don't have an opinion that I wish to defend, I'm just sensitive to hypocritical positions and I can see both sides of this debate as having some merit.

You mean the one that doesn't exist?Right on.

Musicat
08-16-2011, 02:18 PM
*sigh* You pay your cell service provider for cellular service based on an SLA that you agreed upon. You don't pay BART to provide cell service outside of the range of the cell service provided by your cellular provider and based on the SLA you agreed upon. One is offered as a service you pay for, the other as a convenience that you don't.Which makes no difference to the consumer. And the BART service isn't free; it's paid for by transit tickets, just like Internet coffee shops pay for "free" service with Latte sales.

DianaG
08-16-2011, 02:21 PM
Do you think that coffee shops have an obligation to provide wifi?

XT
08-16-2011, 02:49 PM
Which makes no difference to the consumer.

:p I'm sure it doesn't make any difference to the consumer, who has expectations above what they are obligated to receive.

And the BART service isn't free; it's paid for by transit tickets, just like Internet coffee shops pay for "free" service with Latte sales.

Did BART shut down train service? If not, then the consumers got what they paid for, right? As for coffee shops, it is, again, an extra convenience service that is PROVIDED to the customers...the customers only expectations as far as service goes is to get, you know, coffee.

-XT

Musicat
08-16-2011, 02:52 PM
Do you think that coffee shops have an obligation to provide wifi?Do they have an obligation to provide coffee? No to both; they provide what they feel maximizes their investment. Do you think they would attract many laptop users and sell many coffees if they had a habit of cutting off Internet service just when you were counting on it? Or if they suddenly stopped selling coffee without warning?

DianaG
08-16-2011, 02:54 PM
BART isn't selling internet access, or for that matter coffee. People get on the train because they need to, and there isn't another company offering a competing train around the corner. Whether or not they offer cell phone access on their platforms is going to have approximately 0 effect on their ridership numbers.

Musicat
08-16-2011, 02:59 PM
BART isn't selling internet access, or for that matter coffee. People get on the train because they need to, and there isn't another company offering a competing train around the corner. Whether or not they offer cell phone access on their platforms is going to have approximately 0 effect on their ridership numbers.Then why do they offer it? They've got a monopoly; they don't have to; it's just a good customer service feature. Makes people happy. Then how do you think the customers feel when it isn't there any more when they count on it?

Ravenman
08-16-2011, 03:00 PM
No, I don't have an opinion that I wish to defend, I'm just sensitive to hypocritical positions and I can see both sides of this debate as having some merit.But the position isn't hypocritical. You are changing his argument in order to call it hypocritical.

For example, let's say I approve of the killing of Al Qaeda terrorists, but not innocent children. I may think that it is right to kill people who threaten my life, but it is wrong to kill people who do not threaten my life. However, you may say that I am a hypocrite because both terrorists and children are humans, therefore I am a hypocrite to want to protect some humans but not others. However, you would be creating a straw man of my position in order to label it a hypocritical position.

xtisme has explained his logic pretty clearly: if someone has a contractual agreement with a cell phone provider, the provider should not abrogate that contract to deny service to its customers. It is reasonable to assume that there is no contract between BART and its patrons for the provision of cell phone services, therefore if BART wants to suspend that convenience, they would not be violating a contractual obligation. His argument is all about contractual obligations.

He is clearly stating that parties should live up to their contractual obligations, and where there is no contract, any additional service is optional. However, you are trying to re-characterize his argument into something about "from the consumer's point of view, they have no cell service no matter who is taking the action" and then labeling that argument as a bit of hypocrisy. That's making a strawman of xtisme's argument. Your version of his argument isn't about contractual obligations, it's about whether the public ever has to deal with the absence of some particular service.

DianaG
08-16-2011, 03:09 PM
Then why do they offer it? They've got a monopoly; they don't have to; it's just a good customer service feature. Makes people happy. Then how do you think the customers feel when it isn't there any more when they count on it?
Yes, they offer it because it improves the customer experience. That doesn't mean that they're obligated to provide it, or that they're not entitled to stop providing it. As for the customers, I'm sure that taking it away annoys them, which doesn't mean that they have a right to cell phone service, and certainly doesn't mean they won't get on the train the next day.

I'm really not getting what point you're trying to make here.

DrFidelius
08-16-2011, 06:54 PM
Then why do they offer it? They've got a monopoly; they don't have to; it's just a good customer service feature. Makes people happy. Then how do you think the customers feel when it isn't there any more when they count on it?

Well, it is not as if BART shut the service off capriciously, or often. They turned off the repeaters because they believed that was an effective way to try to control potentially disruptive flash-mob protests at busy stations.

How do you think the customers would feel if they were not able to get off the trains on their stops because of people who coordinated their efforts through cell calls?

Musicat
08-16-2011, 08:20 PM
How do you think the customers would feel if they were not able to get off the trains on their stops because of people who coordinated their efforts through cell calls?How would you feel if riders couldn't report an emergency since the communications were cut off? Would that contribute to public safety?

It cuts both ways, my friend. Not all communications are bad, but BART decided to censor them anyway.

DrFidelius
08-16-2011, 08:38 PM
Passengers should not be expected to report emergencies, and any system which relies on the riders' personal private phones to report probelms is doomed from the start.
That is the motorman's responsibility, and they somehow managed to perform that function for years before cell phones were invented and will continue long after cell phones become obsolete.

suranyi
08-16-2011, 10:19 PM
How would you feel if riders couldn't report an emergency since the communications were cut off? Would that contribute to public safety?

It cuts both ways, my friend. Not all communications are bad, but BART decided to censor them anyway.

It does cut both ways, but in this instance the number of passengers affected by the possible flash mobs, and thus unable to enter or exit the trains, is far higher than the number of passengers who were likely to experience an independent emergency.

Martin Hyde
08-16-2011, 10:58 PM
Musicat essentially seems oblivious to the concept of legal responsibility.


Do they have an obligation to provide coffee? No to both; they provide what they feel maximizes their investment. Do you think they would attract many laptop users and sell many coffees if they had a habit of cutting off Internet service just when you were counting on it? Or if they suddenly stopped selling coffee without warning?

Good business and legal responsibility are not the same thing. If I own a coffee shop it is good business to keep coffee stocked and to continually have it available for purchase. It may also be good business to keep a WiFi hotspot running at all times my store is open. However I am not legally required to have coffee available at all times and neither am I required to have a WiFi adapter running at all times.

I don't think anyone would disagree BART turning off their freely provided cell phone repeaters decreased customer enjoyment of riding the trains. Just as me turning off a WiFi hot spot in my coffee shop decreases enjoyment of my business by my patrons. However, unless I've sold them pre-allocated WiFi minutes or something ala an internet cafe, I have no contractual obligation to provide that service. I also have no contractual obligation to keep coffee available. But if someone gives me money for coffee and I take it, I now have a legal obligation to either provide that coffee or to provide a refund. If I do neither that is civilly actionable.

AT&T doesn't provide cell access to be nice or because they want to be good to their customers. They do it because that is their business, if they didn't, they would no longer be a business entity, their share price would go to $0.00 and everyone would lose their jobs. Further, because they have chosen to operate in the telecommunications business, which is massively regulated, they do not have the freedom to shut down service on a whim just because they "feel like it." While wireless providers are regulated a little bit differently from wireline, they still have lots of regulations that they had to agree to before they were given licenses to utilize the public wireless spectrum.

BART most likely has never agreed to any of those regulations because they have never purchased right to use wireless spectrum, that is why they operate repeaters and not cell towers, because BART does not actually provide any form of wireless access, they just expand the access someone else creates.

Further, BART's legal responsibilities almost certainly do include keeping the transportation system running. With that in mind, I would argue if the BART leadership felt turning off the cellular repeaters would avoid massive disruptions to the functioning of the transportation system they would actually have an obligation to turn off those repeaters. (I'm not arguing turning off those repeaters helped or hurt, that's beside the point.)

PBear42
08-18-2011, 02:40 AM
I live in SF, so I've been following this issue with interest. The wrinkle no one has mentioned (that I've noticed) is that BART's position on shutting off the repeaters is intimately related to its position on whether it has the right to prevent protests on the platforms. The latter is a debatable question, but BART's position on this point has some merit relating to the public safety issue. If we grant the latter, the former probably follows. (Both are free speech issues.) So, what we really should be discussing is the right of protesters to disrupt service.

Frankly, I don't see it. ISTM, such protests aren't about expressing a point of view. Rather, they're an exercise in self-empowerment. "Honey, I have some bad news. Mommy is mad at Daddy, but I can't spank Daddy, so I'm going to spank you because that will make Daddy sad. Sorry it sucks to be you, but I've got to do something and this is the only thing I can think of."

Voyager
08-18-2011, 03:14 PM
How would you feel if riders couldn't report an emergency since the communications were cut off? Would that contribute to public safety?

It cuts both ways, my friend. Not all communications are bad, but BART decided to censor them anyway.

Censor is not the right word here, since it assumes that some communication is blocked based on content. All communication was blocked here - the organizers, hypothetical people who wanted to call a gang to beat the crap out of the protesters, people saying they were going to be late, and people wishing to say what a good job BART was doing.

lawoot
08-18-2011, 03:58 PM
Frankly, I don't go into subways expecting to have cell service. It would be nice to have it, but I'm not heart-broken when I don't. BART is well within their rights here.

Picture a skyscraper. The landlord has decided to provide cell repeaters in the elevators, as a courtesy to their tenants/customers. Then a group of kids decide to 'hijack the elevators, and plan their movements/escapes through cell phones. The landlord can't turn off the elevators for safety reasons, but they sure as hell can turn out the repeaters, forcing the kids off the elevators to communicate with each other, thus freeing up the elevators again. (Yes, I know this is an oversimplification).

MOIDALIZE
08-18-2011, 04:23 PM
I'm reminded of Louis C.K.'s bit about getting on the airplane when inflight internet service first rolled out, and having a fellow passenger bitch when the brand new service he had no prior expectation of getting stopped working.

If BART riders want to take this all the way, BART should take the signal boosters out completely.

Jimmy Chitwood
08-18-2011, 05:01 PM
Yes, they offer it because it improves the customer experience. That doesn't mean that they're obligated to provide it, or that they're not entitled to stop providing it.

Good business and legal responsibility are not the same thing. If I own a coffee shop it is good business to keep coffee stocked and to continually have it available for purchase. It may also be good business to keep a WiFi hotspot running at all times my store is open. However I am not legally required to have coffee available at all times and neither am I required to have a WiFi adapter running at all times.

Picture a skyscraper. The landlord has decided to provide cell repeaters in the elevators, as a courtesy to their tenants/customers.

Again, though, BART is not being challenged as a business. BART is the elected government. The examples above all talk about this in the context of what a private business can and can't do, but another thing a private business generally can't do is violate the First Amendment's protection of expression. It doesn't say in the constitution that everybody gets coffee and email access from Starbucks if they want it. You can't take Starbucks to court for violating your right to free speech, because Starbucks can't really do that. BART can.

XT
08-18-2011, 05:54 PM
Again, though, BART is not being challenged as a business. BART is the elected government.

Again, though, the government does not have a mandate to ensure that private companies provided services are forwarded to any citizen who wants to use them. BART is not a communications provider, or a carrier of any kind. They were providing forwarding communications services as an additional convenience to their customers, not as some sort of gods given mandate to any citizen who wants to use it.

The examples above all talk about this in the context of what a private business can and can't do, but another thing a private business generally can't do is violate the First Amendment's protection of expression.

How is it a violation of the First Amendment? Let's say we are talking about a news paper. For the convenience of train passengers the government gives away a free news paper to the riding public. But for some reason, the government chooses not to provide those news papers on Tuesday because they are worried that train users might make them into paper boats and plunge the Republic into civil war. How is this a violation of the 1st Amendment? The government is not blocking the sales of news paper outside of the train station. They are merely not giving away free news papers on Tuesday to the riding public. True, there are now news paper stands in the station (which is why the government was giving them away for free before...as a convenience to the riding public), but the buying public could just walk outside and buy a paper on the street, and the government is not attempting to block that at all.

This is pretty much the exact same thing. I think that the confusion in this thread stems from a lack of understanding of just what happened here. AFAIK, the government didn't block communications (i.e. they didn't attempt to jam signals coming into their station). They didn't ban cell users from having their cell phones either, or attempt to confiscate them. They merely shut off repeaters that they put in to forward signals from private carriers into areas where the private companies hadn't provided for signal to their customers. It was a free service they were providing, not a mandate.

It doesn't say in the constitution that everybody gets coffee and email access from Starbucks if they want it.

It doesn't say in the constitution that the government is obliged to provide communications either. The government is under no obligations to distribute private communications. Unless you have a different copy of the Constitution than I'm reading.

You can't take Starbucks to court for violating your right to free speech, because Starbucks can't really do that. BART can.

I suppose you could do both. Whether you win or not is another matter. All depends on how good your lawyer is and what kind of judge you get. Obviously, lawyers can twist things into any way they want (the law is not set in stone, but instead cast in wax). They may very well be able to twist this into a win...which would mean that government agencies WOULD be required to provide communications services to the public and to forward communications from private companies. That would be interesting (and costly) for us to implement, and I have to wonder what the ramifications would be, aside from a hell of a lot of cost. Would the government (Federal? State? Local?) have to create an SLA to the public to ensure that Sprints signal gets into every government facility? Or only existing facilities that already forward signal from private carriers? What if the repeaters go down due to faults? Would that be a violation? What about dead zones where the repeaters don't get to? Which carriers would the government be obliged to repeat the signal for? I have Verizon, but what if they only repeat Sprints signal? What about local or regional carriers? Them too? What about foreign carriers? Them as well?

-XT

medstar
08-18-2011, 10:35 PM
How would you feel if riders couldn't report an emergency since the communications were cut off? Would that contribute to public safety?

It cuts both ways, my friend. Not all communications are bad, but BART decided to censor them anyway.

This is something that I've been concerned about. I'm not real knowledgeable about cell phone technology, but what if someone had a heart attack or someone wanted to call home to check on their kids. Would BART's actions have prevented these sorts of calls from going through? If not, I don't have a problem with their actions. If so, I'm definitely concerned with a government agency shutting down speech it doesn't like.

DrFidelius
08-19-2011, 07:34 AM
This is something that I've been concerned about. I'm not real knowledgeable about cell phone technology, but what if someone had a heart attack or someone wanted to call home to check on their kids. Would BART's actions have prevented these sorts of calls from going through? If not, I don't have a problem with their actions. If so, I'm definitely concerned with a government agency shutting down speech it doesn't like.

BART's actions, by shutting off the feed they set up to bring carrier signals into the subway tubes (where the commercial signals do not reach) would have prevented anyone from making a call in or out.
This is not a Free Speech issue; it is a "look at your phone and see that you have no signal" issue - they are restoring the dead zones that they patched over with their own repeaters.
BART's job is to get riders safely from one station to another. Providing cell service along the way is a perk, and not a requirement of this mission.

Jimmy Chitwood
08-19-2011, 11:47 AM
Again, though, the government does not have a mandate to ensure that private companies provided services are forwarded to any citizen who wants to use them.

And -- again -- that doesn't matter, because they were doing so:

BART is not a communications provider... They were providing forwarding communications services


So there's that.

How is it a violation of the First Amendment? Let's say we are talking about a news paper. For the convenience of train passengers the government gives away a free news paper to the riding public. But for some reason, the government chooses not to provide those news papers on Tuesday because they are worried that train users might make them into paper boats and plunge the Republic into civil war. How is this a violation of the 1st Amendment? This is pretty much the exact same thing.

I didn't say this was a violation of the First Amendment. I said that whether or not it is a violation of the First Amendment, it's not true that BART is allowed by the First Amendment to do all the things a Starbucks can do in the same situation. Many of the posts in this thread make the comparison to what a private business does, but we're talking about BART. The particulars of the newspaper thing aside, I would hope that you'd agree that the government exercising selective control over people's sharing of ideas with each other is different from some shift manager's doing the same thing. Complaining about what happened with BART is not stupid because a coffee shop shuts down its internet all the time. I think that's worth pointing out.

I think that the confusion in this thread stems from a lack of understanding of just what happened here. AFAIK, the government didn't block communications (i.e. they didn't attempt to jam signals coming into their station). They didn't ban cell users from having their cell phones either, or attempt to confiscate them. They merely shut off repeaters that they put in to forward signals from private carriers into areas where the private companies hadn't provided for signal to their customers. It was a free service they were providing, not a mandate. It doesn't say in the constitution that the government is obliged to provide communications either. The government is under no obligations to distribute private communications. Unless you have a different copy of the Constitution than I'm reading.

Not to be combative, I hope, but I think the confusion on this point is really just that you don't want to hear what I'm saying. I don't think anybody claimed that the government is obliged to provide communications services; you just keep saying they aren't. I understand what BART did: they had a system in place to repeat cell signal, and they shut it down. That is what I've been talking about. What I'm saying is that taking away a forum that they've already provided is different from not opening up the forum in the first place. It doesn't matter that they could have never opened up the station to communications. They did open it up, and then shut it down. Since the thing they shut down involved people's desire to express themselves, there's a First Amendment question there that wouldn't be there if a laundromat did it.

Maybe you think it was justified under the First Amendment one way or another, and you aren't going to get an argument from me. But it misses the point to talk about it like the government had no obligation whatsoever, or to treat complaints as if they're calling for mandatory government cell coverage.

XT
08-19-2011, 06:29 PM
I said that whether or not it is a violation of the First Amendment, it's not true that BART is allowed by the First Amendment to do all the things a Starbucks can do in the same situation.

Why? Why is BART obligated to forward signals from private carriers? Under what law, rule or regulation is BART required to do this? Simply because they did it in the past that puts an obligation on them to continue to do so in the future?

Many of the posts in this thread make the comparison to what a private business does, but we're talking about BART.

Because the signals in question are coming from private carriers, not a government provider. BART is simply forwarding signal into places where the private carrier didn't make provision for, and thus has no service into. Again, where does the obligation come from for BART to provide those services? What law, charter, SLA or whatever come from that obligates them to do so?

The particulars of the newspaper thing aside, I would hope that you'd agree that the government exercising selective control over people's sharing of ideas with each other is different from some shift manager's doing the same thing.

No, I wouldn't agree that this characterizes what happened in this situation, at least as far as I can determine. If BART went out and deliberately blocked signal it would be a different matter, and I'd agree that this would be a violation of the users rights to communications. This isn't what happened, however, so, again, I ask you...what specific law, rule, code, charter, SLA or whatever obligates BART to forward communications from private companies to their customers?

Complaining about what happened with BART is not stupid because a coffee shop shuts down its internet all the time. I think that's worth pointing out.

I think it's worth pointing out that the situation is basically the same. BART is under obligation to provide transport services to the public...and even then, they could shut those down in the name of public safety. Saying that they are obligated to forward private companies cellular services begs the question...what obligates them to do so? I'm asking here, because I'm in essentially the same boat. Many of my buildings have cell relays and WiFi for the public. Where does my obligation come from to ensure that those services are up for the public all the time? Where is the law that prevents me from turning them off for any reason or no reason at all?

Not to be combative, I hope, but I think the confusion on this point is really just that you don't want to hear what I'm saying.

We're just talking here...I'm not being combative at all. I hear what you are saying, though like you (conversely), I'm unsure if you are hearing me. Again, tell me where the obligation comes from for the government to provide forwarded communications services for a private company. What law, charter or SLA is involved in this, and what are the parameters.

I don't think anybody claimed that the government is obliged to provide communications services; you just keep saying they aren't.

But that's exactly what you seem to be saying. If the government isn't obligated to provide those communications services why are they obligated to forward communications services from private cellular carriers??

What I'm saying is that taking away a forum that they've already provided is different from not opening up the forum in the first place.

The forum only existed as a convenience...again, what is BART's obligation to forward communications from private carriers? Where does it derive from? Those carriers have SLA's between themselves and their customers. How does BART factor into that mix? Forget about Starbucks for a moment...take my own building here. It's a State of New Mexico building. We provide the public with WiFi and forwarded cell services much like what it sounds like BART was doing. If I shut off WiFi to the building, what am I in violation of? Time Warner is the internet provider, and Verizon and Sprint are the cell carriers...we only act as an intermediary, and offer a service that is strictly for convenience. So...where does the obligation come from for us to HAVE to continue those services to the public, regardless of the situation? Simply because we are the government and we provided those services (as a convenience) in the past, we are obligated to continue to provide them?? Why?

It doesn't matter that they could have never opened up the station to communications. They did open it up, and then shut it down. Since the thing they shut down involved people's desire to express themselves, there's a First Amendment question there that wouldn't be there if a laundromat did it.


Bummer. Why does that obligate the government to provide those services, and what is the extent of the obligation? Let's say that the buildings core goes tits up and we lose internet connectivity. That mean the public can sue us for the loss of signal? Can they bring criminal charges as well? What if I have to do maintenance on the system and thus take it down? Same thing? Or am I only obligated to keep up a free service we provide to the public (above and beyond what the folks they are actually paying for this service offers) if it's during an emergency or public protest? Seems to me if we are obligated to maintain those free services above and beyond what their provider provides then you'd have to do that all the time...no special circumstance. Right?

Why is there a First Amendment question here that is different than if the laundromat or Starbucks did the same thing? Again, though I'm sure you are sick of hearing the same thing over and over, where does the obligation come from that the government has to provide these services that are above and beyond what the private provider is able to provide?

Maybe you think it was justified under the First Amendment one way or another, and you aren't going to get an argument from me. But it misses the point to talk about it like the government had no obligation whatsoever, or to treat complaints as if they're calling for mandatory government cell coverage.

I am looking at this from a services perspective...I have no idea if the First Amendment justifies this or doesn't, because to me it doesn't come into play in this situation. And yeah...if you say that the government has to provide those extra services just because they provided them in the past, that DOES make it mandatory.

-XT

Snowboarder Bo
08-19-2011, 08:38 PM
Let me ask you this, tho, xtisme: what law permits BART to shut down a private company's equipment? Can any government entity, without a court order, merely proclaim a "public safety issue" and shut down a private company's equipment?

ETA: You seem to be both arguing that it's not BART's equipment, but it's a service that BART provides. Which is it? If the equipment doesn't belong to BART, then how can BART be providing the service? And if it isn't their equipment, then what gave them the right (and the legal power) to shut it down?

Voyager
08-19-2011, 09:06 PM
This is something that I've been concerned about. I'm not real knowledgeable about cell phone technology, but what if someone had a heart attack or someone wanted to call home to check on their kids. Would BART's actions have prevented these sorts of calls from going through? If not, I don't have a problem with their actions. If so, I'm definitely concerned with a government agency shutting down speech it doesn't like.

There are plenty of means of emergency communication in the trains and on platforms.
That deals with heart attacks. Calling home to check on kids is not an emergency. We managed before cellphones, and BART is not obligated to furnish emergency recharging stations to deal with people who want to do this whose cellphones have died.

XT
08-19-2011, 11:33 PM
Let me ask you this, tho, xtisme: what law permits BART to shut down a private company's equipment?

If they shut down some vendors cell repeaters then my guess is that they will be liable for a suit from the vendor...though maybe not, since 'public safety' is like the magic phrase that lets the government do all sorts of stuff. That would be if Sprint et al had put in the cell cites and infrastructure to support them. If, as I suspect, BART had put in cell repeaters connected to their own infrastructure then it would be like any other CPE...they could shut it down at will, and the most that would happen is that their customers (and the vendor) would be annoyed.

Can any government entity, without a court order, merely proclaim a "public safety issue" and shut down a private company's equipment?

They probably can, as the government has some fairly broad powers wrt 'public safety'...our fire/rescue departments certainly swing that around like a dead cat whenever the subject comes up. My guess is that fire/rescue/police could shut down cell towers if they could demonstrate that it was indeed a 'public safety' issue...and they probably WOULD shut it down and then count on skating afterward using that as their justification. In fact I've seen something similar happen, though I'm not going to go into the details here.

That said though, I don't believe (key word since I actually don't know the details...my entire argument in this thread is based on the assumption of how these repeaters are hooked up and how they were deployed wrt whether it was done at the vendors request or at BART's request. It might seem trivial but it makes a big difference IMHO) that this is the case here. If someone has hard data that the repeaters were vendor equipment using vendor infrastructure, then that would change my own attitude here. In that case, I STILL think that BART could do what they did, but I think that it's much more invasive and serious for a government agency to operate this way.

ETA: You seem to be both arguing that it's not BART's equipment, but it's a service that BART provides. Which is it? If the equipment doesn't belong to BART, then how can BART be providing the service? And if it isn't their equipment, then what gave them the right (and the legal power) to shut it down?

My guess (sort of a WAG, but based on how we operate cell repeaters in some of our buildings) is that BART basically brought in the repeaters and hooked them up to their own infrastructure because of poor cell coverage in their tunnels and terminals. They could have worked out some sort of deal with the vendors...give us the repeaters and we'll put them on our system, then your customers will be able to use their phones when they are on our premises. No real expectation of service (i.e. no formal SLA), but just an extension of your existing service as a bonus for our customers...everyone is happy and you don't have to put in a bunch of infrastructure (or get a bunch of permits) to do it. What's not to like?

Assuming that's the case, BART is under no obligation to have those repeaters up, and the vendor is under no SLA to ensure uptime either. If BART chooses to shut them down, it would be the equivalent of shutting down their ISP connection to the internet if they were offering WiFi...bummer for the customers using their internet as a free service, but neither the ISP vendor nor the customers should have any expectations of that service...it's an extra bonus offered by BART. That's how it works at the facilities I'm involved in anyway.

-XT

Snowboarder Bo
08-20-2011, 01:38 AM
Thanks for the answers, xt. FWIW, I'm in general agreement with you on this. I do wish we had more specific information, tho, as I think the devil is in the details (as it almost always is).

It's hard to argue about whether or not this specific instance is right or wrong, good or bad, tastes great or is less filling, without knowing specifically who's equipment it was, in particular.

Jimmy Chitwood
08-20-2011, 12:29 PM
Why? Why is BART obligated to forward signals from private carriers? Under what law, rule or regulation is BART required to do this?

This is all I'm going to quote, but not because it's all I'm responding to. I just think for the most part the stuff you're talking about is beside my point, and that you're kind of ignoring the distinction. Like you said, you're talking about this from a services perspective, but I'm not. Anyway, I didn't say they are obligated to forward signals, period, not even in the part you quoted, and I think the difference is the point. I said that - unlike Starbucks - once they started forwarding signals voluntarily, they were subject to the First Amendment in the way that they did so in the future, and if discontinuing it was an infringement of somebody's First Amendment rights, then that's a problem. They're obligated not to discriminate. The law that prevents them from cutting off communications for the wrong reasons is the First Amendment, the due process clause of the 14th, and Gitlow v. New York.

Those don't apply to Starbucks. It's confusing to me that you're hearing what I'm saying, and still discussing SLAs and your buildings and how you (probably not a government entity), a coffee shop, and the elected public officials who make up BART are all in the same boat. You aren't in the same boat, because they're the government and you're not. In constitutional terms, there literally could not be a bigger difference, but you're kind of shrugging at it.

The answer to your question about what's the difference, where does the obligation come from is the First Amendment: the government can't fuck with people's right to communicate with each other without very good reason and very careful action. Allowing people a public space to express themselves and then taking it away for an arbitrary or discriminatory reason can be just as much a violation of their rights as actively preventing them from expressing themselves, because it has the same effect. And just to reiterate, this isn't like a one-step process where BART had to have been wrong just because it's a First Amendment question. It can be a First Amendment question that comes down one way or the other. But it is a question.

Martin Hyde
08-20-2011, 04:04 PM
Governments close or restrict access to communications and forums they have created pretty much all the time. Is there any serious body of case law that has found these actions violate the First Amendment?

When the internet first started to come out, at least around here, libraries just started hooking up computers and letting people log on and do whatever they wanted.

There was no Web Sense, porn filtering, no audit tracking of who was logged on etc.

The first move I started to see was filtering of adult sites and things like that. Eventually I started to see login required (usually the system would take your library card # as your login ID) so that there is a full audit trail of what's going on with that computer, because before that people would do illegal shit on public computers since it could not easily be tracked back to a single person.

Have any successful suits ever been brought against libraries for taking these actions?

Many libraries have space for groups to meet in as a public service. I imagine sometimes libraries have to remodel and sometimes these meeting rooms may be reduced in number or capacity, as the library administration saw fit to do, has there been a successful suit that this is a violation of patrons First Amendment rights?

These scenarios all involve restriction or elimination of forums as part of the needs of operating a library. Given the fact that "public safety" and "safe transportation of passengers" are probably considered more important a function of BART than "providing a forum" I would be very surprised if it was perfectly okay for a library to reduce or eliminate "forums" for operating reasons but a violation of constitutional rights for BART to do so as part of safely performing its core duty to the public.

XT
08-20-2011, 07:01 PM
Sorry, just a driveby here between flights, but wanted to quickly address a couple of things:

Those don't apply to Starbucks. It's confusing to me that you're hearing what I'm saying, and still discussing SLAs and your buildings and how you (probably not a government entity), a coffee shop, and the elected public officials who make up BART are all in the same boat. You aren't in the same boat, because they're the government and you're not. In constitutional terms, there literally could not be a bigger difference, but you're kind of shrugging at it.

Why am I not in the same boat? I work for the State of New Mexico as a state employee. Our facilities are state facilities...i.e. we are the government, if not the Federal government. We still 'count' however.

I don't see the difference, so could you elaborate as to what you think it is? Is it because I'm not an elected official, but instead an appointed state employee? Or did you not understand that I DO work for the government, and the facilities I manage are state facilities, with services to the public?

The answer to your question about what's the difference, where does the obligation come from is the First Amendment: the government can't fuck with people's right to communicate with each other without very good reason and very careful action

I completely disagree with this on many levels. The biggest one being, as I've said in this thread repeatedly, that the government is under no obligation to forward private communications from private carriers to the public. That they do so is a service, not a right. Even if the government cut off the actual cell towers, which I've seen happen, they can do so in the name of 'pubic service', though the carrier (not the public) could and possibly would take legal action after the fact.

Do you have any evidence or cites showing a precedent for the government cutting off WiFi or forwarded cell service where some party (the public, the carrier, anyone) was able to bring legal action against the government for doing so? To me that would be extraordinary, and I'd be very interested in seeing the details, since it would directly impact our own operations...since, as I've said, I DO work for 'the government' and we DO provide those services to the public...and we have and probably will in the future cut them off or have them go down for various reasons. Or for no reason at all, other than I or my boss, or some official above my boss, decided to shut them down.

Thanks for the answers, xt. FWIW, I'm in general agreement with you on this. I do wish we had more specific information, tho, as I think the devil is in the details (as it almost always is).

No worries SBB. I would love to see some additional details on this. I'm going to be home a lot of next week and if I come across anything I'll definitely post it...or if anyone else has additional details that would be great. The devil here, I think, IS in the details of exactly how this was set up. That said, the government actually has fairly broad powers when something like 'public safety' (which is a magic button sometimes) is impacted. I'd be pretty outraged if BART shut off the vendors equipment or towers that were fully operated by the various cell carriers, though I could see how they COULD do that, if a decision was made that this was a 'public safety' issue. It doesn't even get to the yawn point if this was stuff that BART brought in and riding on their infrastructure, however, and short of JC coming up with some cites of precedence of the law I'd say that there is no case for infringement of the right to free speech here (the caveat being I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet...I'm a network engineer and administrator, in charge of infrastructure).

It's hard to argue about whether or not this specific instance is right or wrong, good or bad, tastes great or is less filling, without knowing specifically who's equipment it was, in particular.

It is...I'm just giving my take, based on my own experiences here. The devil is going to be in the details.

-XT

Musicat
08-27-2011, 04:38 PM
Recent news article about this (The Atlantic). (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/barts-cell-service-cuts-not-egypt-but-not-quite-america-either/244161/?google_editors_picks=true)One member of the public asked the board, "Can you imagine what the police forces of our country would do with the power to shut down cell phone service at will?"

An Arky
08-27-2011, 05:16 PM
I just think they didn't want a bunch of clueless angry hippies (rife in SF) screwing things up for everyone else because of some perceived slight. Help, help; I'm being oppressed! :rolleyes: