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SF protests go on without new wireless shutdowns
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Civil libertarian groups have backed away from threats to legally challenge the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s wireless service shutdown last week after the agency refused a repeat amid rush-hour protests that shuttered four San Francisco stations.
The American Civil Liberties Union met with BART's police chief late Monday even as demonstrators protested the agency’s action to block wireless reception Thursday to disrupt a planned protest against police brutality. After the meeting, ACLU attorney Michael Risher said the organization had no plans to file a lawsuit, but he remained disappointed that he didn’t extract a pledge from BART to refrain from similar tactics in the future. He said he planned to continue meeting with the agency.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, too, said it was unlikely to file a lawsuit over the disabling of wireless reception for three hours.
Still, the shutdown of wireless towers in stations near the protest Thursday raised questions about the role that social networks play in helping people, from Egypt to London, organize online. In the U.S., with its history of free speech, critics are saying BART’s move was unconstitutional.
Cellphone service was operating Monday night as an estimated 50 protesters gathered on the Civic Center Station platform chanting “no justice, no peace” shortly after 5 p.m. Thirty minutes later, police in riot gear and wielding batons closed the station and cleared the platform after protesters briefly delayed an east-bound train from departing.
From Civic Center, the protesters were joined by more demonstrators and marched down San Francisco’s Market Street and attempted to enter to more stations. Officials closed those stations as well.
Hundreds of people stood on the sidewalks and streets outside stations in the city’s Financial District on Monday evening. Many of the people appeared to be commuters.
Elijah Sparrow, a protester, called the demonstration “one of the defining battles of the 21st century over who is going to control communication.”
BART officials have said their primary concern was to ensure that passengers are safe.
Former BART director Michael Bernick applauded the move, saying it ensured a safe and uninterrupted commute Thursday night.
BART cut power to its wireless nodes Thursday night after learning demonstrators planned to use social media and text messaging to protest police brutality. The tactic appeared to work because no protest occurred.
BART’s actions prompted a Federal Communications Commission investigation, and a hacking group organized an attack on one of the agency’s websites on Sunday, posting personal information of more than 2,000 passengers online. The group Anonymous called for a disruption of BART’s evening commute Monday.
By Donald Lambro
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