2

Brown signs bill inspired by BART phone shutdown

A bill inspired by BART’s shutdown of cell-phone service during public protests in 2011 has been signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 380 by state Sen. Alex Padilla prevents arbitrary shutdown or interruption of cell phone service without a court order; it takes effect Jan. 1.

“Open communication networks are critical to public safety and a key element of a free society,” Padilla, D-Van Nuys, said in a news release. “This new law will require a court order to interrupt modern mobile communication networks. For decades this requirement has been in place to protect traditional landline telephone service from arbitrary shutdown, now it will be in place for modern wireless communications as well. We need to make sure our laws keep up with changes in technology.”

BART turned off electricity to cellular towers in four San Francisco stations for three hours during an August 2011 protest about a BART Police officer’s fatal shooting of a knife-wielding homeless man.

The incident led the Federal Communications Commission to probe wireless service shutdowns, bringing public comments that indicated such shutdowns create more problems then they solve because they impede emergency communications. BART later in 2011 adopted a new standard for when it could interrupt phone service; this new law pre-empts that policy.

Brown had vetoed a similar bill last year, saying that giving law enforcement agencies only six hours to make findings about service shutdowns “could divert attention away from resolving the conflict without further threat to public safety.” SB 380 differed from last year’s bill by making carve-outs for hostage and barricade situations, and by adding process for a shutdown in certain emergencies so long as it’s followed by court review to determine whether free speech and public safety standards were met.

SB 380 was approved by the state Senate 35-3 in May; was approved by the Assembly 77-0 on Sept. 4; and was concurred upon by the state Senate 37-0 on Sept. 6.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Can you hear me now?

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Testing, one two three. If system is on strike, where will activists go?