San Francisco & London: Governments Censor Phones & Facebook After Protests
One of America’s most liberal cities cut off cell phone service on its subways to prevent rumored protests from organizing last week. An outcry over potential civil rights violations erupted, including a threat from the hacktivist group Anonymous. This comes in the same week that British Prime Minister David Cameron told his government that he was exploring how to stop protesters from using social media and networks.
On July 3, police officers from San Francisco’s BART subway system shot and killed Charles Blair Hill under unclear circumstances. Protests in July forced BART to close one of their stations. Another shooting in 2009 of a subdued and unarmed man by BART officers caused similar protests, some of which turned violent.
Authorities at BART cut off the system’s underground cellphone service due to rumors that protesters would be organizing via mobile devices on the network. A California State Senator echoed many when he called BART’s actions “a gross violation of free speech rights.”
On Sunday afternoon, Anonymous hacked into a BART-related website and released the personal information of thousands of subway riders who had registered for a news alert service. (It seems like this has angered BART riders more than the authorities.) Anonymous has also encouraged a peaceful physical protest for Monday.
In England, Cameron said one of his aides would be meeting with the heads of Twitter, Facebook, and the manufacturers of BlackBerry about potentially removing users or blocking service. Even in the face of an unprecedented four days of rioting in London, Cameron’s words drew harsh criticism. “It’s not as if people were saying, ‘O.K., I’ve got Blackberry Messenger, now let’s go riot.’ There were riots long before there was BlackBerry Messenger,” said digital media expert Gareth Davies to the New York Times.
Both Cameron and BART have received unfavorable comparisons to the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, who disabled social networks to prevent democratic protests.