August 30, 2011 | By Rebecca Jeschke

Public Interest Groups to FCC: BART Cell Phone Shutdown Broke Telecom Laws

EFF has joined Public Knowledge and other public interest groups in asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify that the cell phone shutdown by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) earlier this month was a violation of American telecom laws. In an emergency petition filed Monday, the coalition urged the FCC to act quickly, as other governmental agencies may follow BART's illegal actions.

This all started back on August 11, when BART officials heard rumors of a protest planned in response to fatal shootings by the agency's police. In a controversial move that made news around the world, BART decided to shut down cell service in four underground stations in downtown San Francisco, claming it was necessary for public safety.

We've already discussed how blocking wireless access actually hurts public safety — particularly as the service was implemented in response to users' worries about communication in a crisis — not to mention the First Amendment concerns with a government agency restraining the free speech rights of its customers. This petition highlights yet another problematic aspect of BART's shutdown: the violation of federal laws meant to protect all Americans' communications. The FCC should clarify this as soon as possible, before BART's misguided attempts to quell criticism spread to other government agencies.

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