The Soapbox – San Fransisco Bay Area Cellphone Shutdown

This wasn’t the update I had planned for today, and it certainly wasn’t the planned picture either (although it is all kinds of classy). This update comes on the heels of news last Thursday that the San Fransisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shutdown cellphone service to stop protesters. The protests were in response to an incident where a man was shot and killed by BART police. Now normally, this sort of thing wouldn’t be enough to spark protests, but this latest mishap was preceded by an unarmed man being shot in the back (who died the next morning) by a BART official in 2009. Now, I’ve never been to San Fransisco myself, much less played the Russian Roulette that they call public transportation, but something tells me that it’s okay that people are angry about events such as these. Let them don their wool-knit caps from the DAV and scream at trains until it’s time for True Blood to come on. What’s the harm in that? To BART, apparently a lot…

For a few hours during the protests in the subway stations, cellphone service was shut down. Not just for those protesting, but anyone at the platforms during that time. Want to call home and let them know you’re unharmed? Sorry. Want to call your doctor’s office and tell them you’re gravely injured? ‘Tis but a flesh wound. What’s worse is that BART had no indication that cell phones were being used to promote the protests, but rather blocked service as a preemptive measure. That, interestingly enough, is frowned upon by the constitution. It seems odd that just months after similar service shutdowns in places like Egypt (yeah, I went there, just like 3000 other bloggers have) that we have similar tactics being used in the United States. Well, you know the old saying, “One man’s oppressive regime is another man’s civil protection” or something like that. Now, obviously I’m being a bit one-sided to the situation, so allow me to give a counter-point…

There are always people like this guy. Thousands of them, in fact. Packed underground and inches from a 4-ton chunk of metal going over 5o miles per hour. Idiocy is always a safety concern, and more so when there are a whole bunch of people is not a whole lot of space. For now, the protests have lost some momentum and both BART and free-speech groups are in an awkward détente. Still, it poses an interesting question: should the government have the right to disable cell phone service in certain situations? Much like technologies of yore have dealt with before, cell phone and internet communications are still experiencing the growing pains of their teenage years. They want to be independent and not have their parents watching over them constantly, but they still make really stupid decisions. In any case, what do you think? Was BART right to stop cell service or should we prepare for a grim future?

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