Government could get kill-switch for cell phones
California residents outraged at ongoing acts of violence carried out in the hands of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officers in recent years displayed their disgust with a series of demonstrations earlier this year, which triggered city officials to throttle cell phone service in hopes of deterring angry riders from organizing protests. Despite a backlash of complaints from patrons and civil liberty advocates across the country, the BART system has officially implemented a legislation that allows them the ability to thwart service at their own discretion.
“The intent of this cell phone interruption policy is to balance free speech rights with legitimate public safety concerns,” BART Board President Bob Franklin tells reporters.
Along with the ongoing enforcement of the Patriot Act and Congress’ recent passing of the National Defense Authorization Act, this measure only accentuates what GOP candidate Newt Gingrich recently said was the country’s need to “try to find that balancing act between our individual liberties and security.”
According to the recent passing, BART can interrupt service of cellular networks during “extraordinary circumstances” when it determines that unlawful activity is imminent, private property is being destructed or any event which could disrupt transit service. The Federal Communications Commission gave them their blessing at the time but warned that “any interruption of cellular service poses serious risks to public safety and that available open communications networks are critical to our economy and democracy.”
Now, however, the FCC is considering if changes should be made to national legislation that could allow for similar actions from coast-to-coast.
“The legal and policy issues raised by the type of wireless service interruption at issue here are significant and complex,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski writes in a press leased from their Washington DC office. “I have asked Commission staff to review these critical issues and consider the constraints that the Communications Act, First Amendment and other laws and policies place upon potential service interruptions.”
“We will soon announce an open, public process to provide guidance on these issues,” adds the chair.
In the meantime, BART officials can disrupt service within their stations and trains at their own discretion, using a vaguely worded and not-so-clear context to explain what is and isn’t a threat to the system and city. As protests aligned with the Occupy Wall Street movement cause concern for the establishment across the country, other cities could soon implement their own similar standards.
The BART system and its officers have repeatedly become the center of controversy after a series of incidents set in play with the execution of Oscar Grant, a transit rider, nearly three years ago. His killer, former officer Johannes Mehserle, served only a few months for the killing, only to go on trial for another incident involving excessive police force.