I am appalled and extremely disappointed in BART's decision to terminate wireless service in some San Francisco stations and the Transbay tube on Thursday, August 11th, due to a planned protest. I have reviewed your press release concerning this incident (updated Aug 12, 1:08 PM) and I find your explanation wholly unacceptable, especially in light of the fact that the protest did not materialize. Indeed, the lack of cell service ultimately proved more disruptive to the evening commute than the non-existent protest.
While I understand and fully support BART's desire to minimize service disruptions and ensure the safety of its passengers, I remain unconvinced that interrupting wireless service is a reasonable means to achieve these goals. Rather than concentrating on the small minority of passengers intent on causing a disruption, you chose to impose a sweeping, over-broad restriction that violated the free-speech and free-association rights of every single passenger passing through San Francisco that evening. Worse, you provided absolutely no justification for the use of that specific tactic, saying only that it was "one of many … to ensure the safety of everyone".
Our court system has established many precedents on when, where and how free speech may be curtailed, and although I am neither a lawyer nor a judge, I believe such a broad action runs afoul of these precedents. Your actions set a chilling, contrary precedent -- one that aligns closely with the likes of Iran and China, which practice service disruption and censorship on a large scale.
Instead, you should have waited until the protest began to develop, using your agents and officers to observe the state of the protest. You should have targeted your response to the specific individuals trying to cause trouble, and managed the situation as it unfolded, only cutting cell service as an absolute last resort to contain an already-unsafe situation.
Finally, I find it extremely hard to believe you truly consider it unacceptable for individuals to engage in "expressive activities" in the paid areas of the station; as you must be aware, the 1st Amendment does not limit itself to so-called "free-speech zones". I am frequently approached by people on trains and in stations who are looking for donations to various charities, or signatures to various petitions, political and otherwise, and however annoying they may be, there is nothing wrong with this. I find your edict that "No person shall … engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of the BART stations, …" to be disingenuous and absurd on its face.
I call on you to swiftly:
- Take a hard look at your Aug 11th press release, and revise both the content and the tone to reassure passengers that BART respects their freedom of speech and will do everything possible to accommodate it in accordance with our society's laws and values. Your release strikes a condescending and disrespectful tone that is inappropriate when addressed to the large majority of passengers who have done nothing wrong.
- Release a statement apologizing for the service disruption, and explaining clearly and specifically why you felt disrupting wireless service was necessary, and who was responsible for making this decision.
- Disclose all relevant internal and public-facing policies and documentation, and update them to ensure that intentional cell service disruption won't happen again. Such tactics are appropriate only as an absolute last resort to contain an already-dangerous situation.
Again, this was a shameful action that reflects poorly on BART and goes against everything our society stands for. I encourage you to take swift steps to correct this mistake and ensure you do not make it again.
Please reply at your earliest convenience.