Saturday, August 13, 2011

BART shuts down cell phone use in subway stations

Cell phone use in San Francisco subway stations was halted Thursday. BART, the authority that operates the subways, “learned” that protests were planned in some of the stations. People wanted to express their anger over the shooting death of a man by BART police. So, electricity was cut off to cell phone towers in the stations from 4 to 7 pm on Thursday in response.

Communities are given the responsibility to protect its citizens. Collective self defense was one of the first reasons people gathered in communities. But, the defense of the community must be kept in balance with the rights of individuals.

According to news reports, it is illegal for people to assemble in subway stations in San Francisco to protest. The law to prevent these assemblies is a reasonable act. The dangers that would exist if many angry people were protesting on subway platforms would go beyond a mere inconvenience of commuters. It is reasonable to think that people would be injured or killed. Also, the law most likely doesn’t choose sides, it just simple states no protests of any kind. There are plenty of other places in the city for people to assemble to express their grievances without endangering the lives of people.

When BART authorities “learned” that something was planned, it sounds like they did develop a plan to protect commuters and prevent a violation of the law. But, sense the plan they developed involved the violation of everyone’s rights, not just those involved in the protests, they should have sought judicial review. This review would have allowed a public examination of the evidence and a evaluation of the dangers that would be presented if the protest were not preempted. (Courts would have responded quickly to a request from BART due to the nature of the issues.)

I used the word preempted about the plan to negate the protests. The plan that was developed by the BART authorities was based on what might happen, as opposed to what is happening. It is dangerous to image a community that would preempt political activity without judicial review. If political activity was allowed to be preempted communities would walk right in to the issues that were explored in “Minority Report”. It was a movie from a few years ago that arrested people based on what they might do, with convictions and confinement based on action they hadn’t taken.

This action by BART authorities is similar to laws that are being considered on a national level, the so called “internet kill switch.” This law would allow the president or some other authority to kill the internet in part or whole to prevent illegal or dangerous action by individuals or groups. In that law, I supported the law as long as there was a review of the intelligence that suggested great harm was going to happen if the internet was not shut down. Even then, the action should only take place temporarily.

If intelligence provides evidence that an illegal activity was going to happen, present the evidence to a court. If approved by the court, then stand ready to take action when the activity happens, as opposed to cutting everyone’s rights short.

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