A new bill requiring BART and other government agencies to seek a court order before blocking cell phone service could find its way to the floor of the California Senate before the end of the month.
Los Angeles County State Senator Alex Padilla introduced the bill in wake of BART’s decision to shut down underground cell service at San Francisco stations in October in an effort to quell a protest.
“No city or county can just choose to cut service off without a good reason, but the law has not been updated to apply to modern technology,” Padilla told KCBS.
Commuters at stations from downtown to near the city's main airport were affected as BART officials sought to tactically thwart a planned protest over the recent fatal shooting of a 45-year-old man by transit police.
Two days later, the move had civil rights and legal experts questioning the agency's move, and drew backlash from one transit board member who was taken aback by the decision.
"I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this. We really don't have the right to be this type of censor," said Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors. "In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair."
The central argument on both sides of the issue is the well being of the passengers.
"It wasn't a decision made lightly. This wasn't about free speech. It was about safety," said BART Deputy Police Chief Benson Fairow.
Concerns over the bill have pointed to the possibility of a bomb being detonated in the BART system using a cell phone and BART officials would not be able to react without a court order. Padilla countered that cell phones accessibility would allow passengers to immediately call emergency services.
"This is a land of free speech and for us to think we can do that shows we've grown well beyond the business of what we're supposed to be doing and that's providing transportation," said one BART passenger to the Associated Press. "Not censorship."