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FCC Investigates BART Over Cellphone Shutdown

Aug 16, 20112 mins
Data and Information SecurityGovernmentMobile

The announcement came as protesters held a demonstration against BART

The Bay Area Rapid Transit agency closed four San Francisco subway stations on Monday during protests sparked by cellular signal shutdowns. The demonstrations were against BART’s decision last week to temporarily suspend cellphone service at several stations in order to disrupt plans for a protest after a fatal shooting by the transit police in July.

The Federal Communications Commission has confirmed that it is looking into last week’s cellular shutdown: “Any time communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation,” FCC spokesman Neil Grace said in an e-mail. “We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks.”

Monday’s demonstrators tried to stop a train from leaving a station. Their protest was launched in response to BART shutting down cellphone access in order to prevent an unrelated protest on Aug. 11. BART claimed it asked wireless carriers to disable service, but it later acknowledged it has cut the service itself. Commuters were unable to dial 911, or surf the Web for three hours during the shutdown, and protesters were unable to coordinate their actions.

BART’s move was compared by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the actions of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, who ordered the shutdown of cellphone service in Tahrir Square in response to peaceful protests this year.

The hacker collective Anonymous also joined the cause and on Sunday broke into, releasing the personal information of thousands of users. The information breach did not include any financial information such as credit card numbers and BART has shut down myBART temporarily while it investigates the breach.

Anonymous also backed Monday’s protests, where photographers and writer, according to PCWorld’s Lauren Crabbe. However, under the media’s eyes, BART did not shut off cell service.

The UK government is also considering cutting off social networks and messaging services such as Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger at times of social unrest. The controversial plans come after riots have spread from London to several other large UK cities last week.

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