Friday, August 19, 2011

Fox & Hounds Misses the Point on BART's Cell-Service Shutdown

We often appreciate the political commentary over at Fox & Hounds Daily, but like the opposite of a broken clock, it looks like even they can be wrong twice a day. The latest example: John Wildermuth's "cranky old man" rant about the Bay Area Rapid Transit District's decision to head off a protest last week by shutting down cellular service in its tunnels.

Flibbety Floo!
The focus of Wildermuth's piece is the criticism leveled at BART by organizations such as the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who called the move "a shameful attack on free speech." As we noted, the hacker group Anonymous warned BART that it would "attempt to show those engaging in the censorship what it feels like to be silenced." In all of the backlash against BART, Wildermuth sees a worrying trend in which people now believe in a basic human right to connectivity. Which is laughable, in his view: "pardon me if I don't get too upset about the horror of three hours without phone or Internet service. People can live like that. Trust me."

We see what he's getting at, but he's missing the point. To be clear: we didn't approve of BART's action, but to the extent that the planned protest was not expected to be peaceful, we think the ACLU and EFF are overreacting. Nevertheless, when Wildermuth points out that BART "shut down the part of the cellular system they owned and installed in their own tunnels," he's actually not correct. BART is a government district, not a private organization, and its tunnels and cell network aren't private property. Strictly speaking, only a private owner has a right to dictate how others may use his or her property. There's obviously no positive right to cell service (though some in our Legislature beg to differ when it comes to free WiFi), but BART was in the wrong for unilaterally choosing to shut it down. The solution to this dilemma, as to so many others? Private property.


  1. RobAug 19, 2011 04:40 PM
    Even the "expectation" of non-peaceful assembly is a stretch. All any government functionary would have to do in order to shut down any assembly, anywhere, at any time, would be to declare that he expected it to be violent. This was the sort of thing that the southern police forces did to civil rights protesters in the South back in the 1960's.
  2. GSLAug 19, 2011 04:43 PM
    As always, Rob arrives to make an excellent point I should've thought to make. :)
  3. Johnny EdgeAug 22, 2011 09:04 AM
    Looks like I'm late to the party. As Rob astutely points out there is no victim based solely on some government flunky's expectation of "bad things". Therefore, there is no crime that needs to be addressed.
  4. GSLAug 22, 2011 09:20 AM
    No worries. Welcome to GSL, Johnny.