Bay Area transit system proposes new policy on cell service cuts

Story highlights

  • The new policy limits when commuter cell service can be cut
  • BART officials cut commuter cell service during a protest in August
  • The move angered civil liberties group, who had a say in the new policy

A new policy proposed Wednesday by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system would allow disruptions of cellular phone service for commuters only when there is a threat to human safety or possible widespread disruption of service.

The transit system came under criticism from free-speech advocates for cutting off commuters' cell signals during an August 11 protest against shootings by transit police officers.

Under the proposed policy, cutting cell service in the future would be severely limited. The BART board of directors will consider the new policy at an October 27 meeting.

"This draft policy incorporates input from the public, the American Civil Liberties Union and the BART Police Citizen Review Board," BART Board President Bob Franklin said. "The policy's intent is to provide a clear guideline in balancing free speech rights with legitimate public safety concerns."

The proposed policy says the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District recognized that cellular service should be disrupted only "in the most extraordinary circumstances that threaten the safety of District passengers, employees and other members of the public, the destruction of District property, or the substantial disruption of public transit service."

It also says the transit system was "fully committed to its long-standing policy of allowing the exercise of First Amendment rights of expression in the areas of its stations where it can be done safely and without interference with the District's primary mission of providing safe, efficient and reliable public transportation services."

Examples of circumstances that could cause officials to cut cellular service in the BART system include "strong evidence" that cell phones would be used to detonate explosives, in a hostage situation or as part of a plan to destroy BART property or substantially disrupt services.

    In such circumstances, the resulting shutdown of cellular service must be "narrowly tailored," according to the proposed policy.