Protests, Technology and Crackdowns

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

During the UK riots, the British government asked Blackberry to block messages sent between protesters. Recently in San Fransciso, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials shut down cell service to curb a planned protest. Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and author of the popular blog, discusses whether blocking social media is a legitimate law enforcement tool in a time of social unrest.


Zeynep Tufekci

Comments [14]

Evan from Brooklyn

How many more airheads do we need on the radio?
The rioters in England were using technology to find where the loot was and the bobbies weren't. Floyd and Tufekci danced around the complexity of the issue because it challenges their left-liberal complacence.
The demonstrators aimed to shut down BART service. Another bit of complexity conveniently sent down the memory hole.

Aug. 19 2011 12:49 AM
gary from queens


Government doesnt have to wait for a criminal conspiracy to begin before it acts to stop it. Granted, it helps prosecutors if people are caught in the act. But they don't wait for some crimes to begin, because of the seriousness of the crime.

People are arrested for conspiracy to commit murder, for example. I would argue that conspiracy to disrupt a city, and halt city services like EMS or FDNY etc could risk lives. it has in the past.

Aug. 16 2011 11:55 AM
Michael from Brooklyn

The professor was wrong on the facts in several ways. Unfortunately, the moderator either did not know the facts or more usual on wnyc talk shows, just accepted whatever was said without challenge.

The case of a BART cop shooting she described, including it going to court, was not the incident in question. This previous case from a cuple years ago obviously provides a history, since the protests etc. are about a second shooting. But she did not mention anything about the current incident in question. She was uninformed and wrong. The current incident was a recent case of a BART cop shooting an apparently drunk guy who threw a large knife at him.

As mentioned above, she was also wrong about passengers not being able to call 911. There are emergency phones on platforms and in each train car. People can report emergencies just like they did for over three decades in BART before anyone had a cell phone and before BART provided cell service in tunnels and stations. Other transit systems like NYC subways do not provide cell service in tunnels. Many BART customers are sick of listening to moronic conversations by people shouting into their cell phones and wouldn't mind the tunnel service being permanently eliminated.

She repeatedly complained about the inability of people to call and say they were going to be late or something. Boo-hoo. Again, before cell phones....If someone has an essential message, they can use the pay phone on the platform or station. Just like they used to. If a protest designed to stop BART service inconveniencing tens of thousands of commuters is averted, a lot less people will feel the need to call anyone about being late. In a train based mass transit system, a disruption in one location screws up all or a lot of the whole system.

Aug. 16 2011 11:42 AM
gary from queens

When the Framers guarranteed "freedom of assembly", the were NOT referring to protest rallies.

You do not have a right to gather in public commons. That's an activity that government GRANTS people. If it grants that permission, or not, then demonstrations are not a right, and speech intended to coordinate that activity isnt a right either.

Aug. 16 2011 11:03 AM

Marc and Gary when someone cross the line in to criminal action they must be struck down.

But, allowing the state to control communication, is a slippery slope.

Aug. 16 2011 11:02 AM
The Truth from Becky you didn't know they could, more less would manipulate social media. People tend to live unders a false sense of security/privacy if you will.

Aug. 16 2011 10:58 AM
gary from queens

The courts have limited speech that harms the public, like crying fire in a theatre where this is no fire.

And injunctions against speech is temporary, during a state of siege, and limited to the technology that transmit the speech, which is subject to it's own restrictions.

If you don't believe that, talk to that spammer who just went to jail.

The government can try to obtain prior restraint if they can show a judge, from intercepted calls, that a planned demonstration will be violent or halt lawful and necessary municipal operations or commerce.

Aug. 16 2011 10:55 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

So have not average citizens the right to utilize common infrastructure in order to pursue their everyday business? Why is it that some loudmouth's right to express himself has to trump my right to go about my business peaceably? Does the guest want to address that little dilemma?

Aug. 16 2011 10:54 AM
Donna from NYC

This is ridiculous. These people were not peaceful protesters, they were criminal that were rioting.

Have you seen the people on BART? I saw a guy smoking crack on BART once.God knows what kind of nightmare was avoided. And Bart has not changed their story, they had every right to shut down their service, it's a courtesy service. There are phones available to people in an emergency. This is BS hype.

Why not do story about all the flash mobs that are attacking people? Hmm, how are they organizing? Twitter, Facebook

Safety of the general public comes before some low life criminal's "right" to loot a sneaker store. Give me a break.

Aug. 16 2011 10:54 AM
Orin from Queens

If this phone shutdown is legal because the only subway in SF is private property, this is a strong argument against the privatization of public services.

Aug. 16 2011 10:53 AM


Aug. 16 2011 10:53 AM
William from Manhattan

It's particularly chilling to get this news from San Francisco on the same day that we in NYC hear that the MTA plans to pull emergency call boxes out of the subways, with the justification that "everybody has cell phones for emergencies."

Aug. 16 2011 10:51 AM

I cannot believe that this is not a spoof news? Is this the Onion?

If people are doing something illegal, then arrest them. But speech is free. I can say
"Go out and smash some windows! Do it!
Go out and steal something! Now ! Go!

But, it is up to you what you do.
If you just limit all freedom, we will have no crime and no risk and no freedom.

Aug. 16 2011 10:46 AM
gary from queens

Government is responsible for keeping the peace and protecting property. Peaceful protests are fine. But violent ones should not benefit from technology, and governments know which protestors are violent.

An extreme example, but still relevent:

TEL AVIV — Israel on Tuesday stopped what would have been a spectacular border terrorist attack being planned from inside the Gaza Strip, according to Egyptian security officials speaking to KleinOnline.

The Egyptian officials said there is information the attack was aimed at the sole fuel pipeline that supplies Gaza with gas. The pipeline, located at the Israeli town of Nahal Oz, is manned and provided by Israel.

In a rare incident, on Tuesday all electricity, phone and Internet was suspending for about 18 hours inside the Gaza Strip.

The blackout was reportedly caused by Israeli military bulldozers operating near the fuel pipeline in the Israeli town of Nahal Oz, which is close to the Gaza Strip.

At about the same time the electricity went out in Gaza, the Egyptian officials said Israel passed a message for Egypt to be on high alert for possible attacks from inside the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian officials said they have information that Israel was actually working to stop a cross border attack aimed at the fuel pipeline. The officials said the downing of communications inside Gaza was central to halting the attack.

Posted on August 10, 2011 at 10:18 AM EST

Aug. 16 2011 09:40 AM

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