The FCC is launching a probe into the August 11, 2011 decision by San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to cut-off wireless communication services in their tunnels to disrupt planned protests.
The investigation comes almost four months after BART operators used a wireless blackout to dampen turnout to protests of the shooting deaths of two men by BART Police officers. BART officials have defended their actions, which they claim were meant to ensure public safety. The transit agency has published a “Cell Service Interruption Policy[PDF]” following the incident, which generated widespread protest from BART riders and the public.
The hacker-collective, Anonymous, jumped into the fray as well, releasing their standard manifesto condemning the transit system both for the BART Police shootings and for the perceived violation of the people’s right to assembly.
In a letter dated December 1, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the Commission is “dedicated to preserving the availability and openness of communications networks” and “ensuring that communications technologies are harnessed to protect the public.” Noting the jeapordy that wireless network blackouts pose in the event of an emergency, Genachowski said that deliberate interruptions of communications services must “clear a high substantive and procedural bar.”
Commission staff will review those issues, as well as other legal and Constitutional issues raised by the BART action and provide guidance, he said.